Media’s Crucial Role
Just like the Parliament, the judiciary and the military, the media too has a crucial role to play as the country takes on the menace of terrorism. For better or for worse, the electronic media in Pakistan has become a major player in the business of shaping narratives and opinions. Unfortunately, we can best assess its effectiveness from the amount of damage it has been able to cause. Doing good or bad both require the same tools, and the idea is to use them to make something better this time. While massive outreach can be used to induce panic and instability, it can also guide the viewers through a difficult time.
So, why should we expect the media to act with responsibility now when it has failed to do so in the past? If the argument that selfish, commercial interests stand in the way of professional journalism is largely correct, then perhaps a case ought to be made which speaks to the owners/policy-makers in the language they understand best. Winning against terrorists is good for business. Even a fish would take longer to forget the face of the monster which threatens to swallow it every day. Terrorists aren’t huge fans of news channels. That is why they hurl bombs at your offices and kill your staff members. That also explains your dignified presence on all those hit lists circulating around. The media’s commercial interests and national interest, as far as terrorism is concerned, are aligned. The apparent absence of this realisation can only be attributed to short-sightedness. Not doing your part to counter those who promise to silence your voice for the sake of short-term commercial benefits and security is anything but a good business strategy. The media needs to understand that the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the larger campaign against terrorism is directly linked with its own survival.
Once a common objective has been defined, the rest will naturally fall in order. It would be a grave error to give excessive air time to individuals who specialise in the art of obfuscation and consistently misguide and demoralise people. It is high time the media takes upon itself to steer forward the weak narrative against terrorism instead of damaging it as it has till now. Reporters, anchors, analysts and other players on the screen should keep in mind that the country is in a state of war. Mistakes will be made. It’s unavoidable. However, it is up to us how we choose to react to them. That is not to say that blunders should be covered up. Not at all. But criticism should be aimed at introducing improvement to achieve that one ultimate goal rather than making noise to undermine the entire thing. Looking at what news channels are currently doing, one can’t help but be discouraged and worried.