EDITORIAL (May 07 2007): Thanks to the rising tide of democracy since the demise of communism in most countries of the Soviet bloc and the availability of advanced technology for instant transmission of information, the media has come to occupy a far more intimate position in the lives of people all over the world.
Living in its ubiquitous presence, they expect the media to play the role of a vigilante, particularly vis-Ã -vis the state, in defending their fundamental rights and personal liberties. But that’s no mean order: to be effective in shouldering that responsibility the media has to be free, unburdened of various considerations.
The question as to how much media is free in a certain society is, therefore, of universal interest, as it not only reflects upon the quality of life in that society but also impacts its relationship with others. Rightly so, on May 3 every year the world celebrates the press freedom day – to evaluate the degree of media freedom in various countries, with special reference to media-government relationship, and tributes are paid to media persons who lost their lives in the line of duty.
The quality of freedom enjoyed by the Pakistani media has earned a harsh judgement from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. A CPJ report issued on the occasion of International Press Freedom Day, has put Pakistan in the unenviable company of 10 media-freedom “backsliders.” Others earning this infamy include Ethiopia, Gambia, DR Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Morocco and Thailand.
As this assessment came up for discussion in the National Assembly on Thursday, the opposition members came hard on the government’s media policies, claiming that during the present regime about two dozen journalists were killed, 68 were abducted, arrested or detained, 81 were injured or tortured, and 114 were threatened or intimidated while 37 media outlets were vandalised.
Of course, the government defended itself but the scale of arguments was too heavily tilted against it to be lifted to any respectable level. At other forums and platforms where freedom of press was spoken about, the condemnation of the government attitude and policies was equally strong if not more.
That the media freedom in Pakistan is beholden to the military regime, however, sounds like a strange paradox. To quote State Minister for Information Tariq Azeem, “The press freedom enjoyed in Pakistan during the past seven years had never been given before”. That freedom, in fact, was already on the way and could not be stopped given the unprecedented advancements in communication technology coupled with the widespread use of cell phone and the Internet, could be a profound counter-argument.
The Pakistani media also has acquired heretofore unknown and un-exercised potentiality of accessing the audience and moulding the public opinion. Add to it the media personalities, who by virtue of their knowledge and unrelenting commitment to the cause of free media, have had fought tenaciously for freedom on various fronts winning the battle of mind, inch by inch and day by day.
Then, it has also become increasingly difficult for the administration to successfully employ old techniques like censor, press advice and denial of advertisements as a leverage to pressurise the media. But that does not mean the media has got rid of all the demons. The new challenge facing the media is the corporate interest, with unlimited funds at its disposal, that is increasingly seeking to influence the form and content of the media.
The freedom that the media enjoys today, however, has to be tempered with a strong sense of responsibility. Quintessentially, the job of a media operator is to present facts in a highly objective and impartial manner, leaving it to the good judgement of its reader or viewer to draw his own conclusions.
And, when opinion is tendered that too should be done with utmost responsibility, making it clear all along that whatever is stated is an opinion. Media can be and will become a potent force and public opinion maker only if it successfully retains its credibility; otherwise its roar, however deafening, will be ignored by people as mere noise.
Source: Business Recorder