Question mark on the media’s credibility
By: Mohammad Jamil
Last week, a two-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan while delivering verdict on Dr Arsalan Iftikhar’s case observed: “The series of events, the run up to this suo motu case also raised concerns about the issues of media law and ethics. The ethic and legal framework of the media requires fairness and objectivity; it requires that journalists conduct due diligence before reporting any news so that rumours and insinuations are filtered out, particularly in matters of grave significance such as ones arising in this case.”
Meanwhile, rumours abound that 19 senior journalists allegedly were paid handsome amounts by the real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz. Against this backdrop, a video on YouTube showed an off-air conversation between Malik and two anchors of a private TV channel. The footage made public some shocking revelations, including the fact that the entire interview was planted. However, it has yet to be investigated whether the journalists and anchors received funds and/or plots from the tycoon.
Some anchors in the talk shows act as hosts representing their respective channels. They also appear in other TV channels as analysts and guests, where they unleash an avalanche of blistering censure against the corrupt individuals and agencies in Pakistan. It is true that the print and electronic media have played an important role in creating awareness among the masses and exposing scandals of corruption and graft, but some anchorpersons and media men have been acting as self-styled spokespersons of the judiciary and in the process, have tended to tarnish its image.
The problem is that there are some biased and grossly irresponsible anchorpersons and media men that have a penchant to pit one political party against another. Such people have also tried to denigrate the military, especially after the Abbottabad raid and Mehran attack; they have tried to lower the prestige of the armed forces in the people’s eyes by raising doubts about their capability to defend the country. Through negative commentaries, they have been creating misperceptions about other institutions as well. They should bear in mind that the nation today is confronted with gigantic challenges, both internal and external. Internally Pakistan suffers from terrorism that is stalking the entire land. Externally, a heady superpower is sending ominous signals and hardly a day goes by when Pakistan is not humiliated.
Anyhow, today there is a big question mark not only on their credibility, but also on the media’s credibility as a whole. It is a steep downfall that cannot be rescaled through explanations on their part. If the media has to become a credible source, it should provide reliable and accurate information; it has to work with utmost diligence to offer reports and comments objectively. Analysts should present their opinions that should be unbiased and free of prejudices. At the same time, their analysis must lead to constructive recommendations for the policymakers to safeguard national interests.
In September 2011, the Supreme Court Bar Association held a three-day conference in which one of the topics was Justice and Impunity: Its portrayal by media. All the participants agreed that there should be no media trials, and the media should not be allowed to encroach upon the space of the judiciary, and this trend must be discouraged.
Having said that, the Pakistani media must build its credibility through its exemplary conduct and protect national interests, especially when policymakers make statements on matters related to national security or law and order situation.
The writer is a senior journalist and freelance columnist.