Serving the interests of…
By: Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
After a decade of the initiation of an evolution that engulfed the media, it is perhaps time for it to assess the standards of journalism currently being practiced.
As Ted Turner states, “Just because your ratings are bigger doesn’t mean you’re better.” This is the realisation that the Pakistani media is facing as it witnesses a process of evolution. The heightened debate over the accountability of the media has been sparked by the recent leaked off-air conversation of a business tycoon with two journalists. The chain of events that followed probably has prompted the journalist community and media outlets to introduce responsibility and accountability. For this purpose, journalists are now seen approaching the judiciary for assistance, and media outlets are devising a code of conduct. Over time, media literacy has also developed among citizens, where they are also asking media to exhibit responsibility. After a decade of the initiation of an evolution that engulfed the media, it is perhaps time for it to assess the standards of journalism currently being practiced. There is a need for media to evolve into a more responsible entity, where it truly serves the purposes of the fourth estate.
Advertising interests and media corporate owners control it, while there is more noise on media rather than news and information. These statements are not my personal opinion or concocted out of thin air. In fact, it is the response I receive from citizens, consumers and media personnel through a survey conducted on its independence and role. Just to share the methodology of the survey, two close-ended questions were posted on a social media website. It was asked whether in Pakistani media we witness more news, more views or more noise. It was further inquired if Pakistani media is free, partially free, not free, controlled by fear of agencies, advertising interests, owners or government. There were 39 respondents for the first question, while 50 individuals responded to the second question. Being a survey based on a small sample group, it cannot be ascertained if the results are one hundred percent accurate, but the findings at least show the general perception regarding media and the nature of relationship that currently exists between media and consumers.
Interestingly, only two respondents considered media to be free, while nine people were of the view that it was partially free. It was further observed that nine individuals perceived the media not to be free at all. The survey evidently points to the fact that not many people, even today consider media as free and independent. A total of eight people considered media being influenced by the fear of the clandestine agencies. Here, a majority, 13 respondents, viewed it to be controlled by corporate interests and nine considered it to be dictated by the owners of the media outlets. It was interesting to observe that although we pin the blame on government for any and every ill in society, not to mention the occurrence of natural calamities; but none of the respondents pointed out government as factor of influence, control or manipulation for media. This time, perhaps one of very few instances, government wasnot viewed as a culprit. This also shows that while in the past, the incumbent governments had sufficient control over media, that control is no more visible.
At a certain time, when this poll was taking place, the number of respondents selecting corporate interest and owners’ influence were neck to neck.What stands out is the perception that media is being steered by corporate entities and owners. The influence of state agencies is nothing new or unheard of, but the concern is from internal influences and interests, which are distancing media from the responsibilities it has towards its consumers. When individuals were asked regarding the content being disseminated through media, only one person was of the view that there was news, while two respondents considered media to contain opinions and views. A majority — 36 respondents — perceived media of containing no thin oise. This apparently points towards the inability of media to effectively highlight and present issues concerning the public. Coupled with the findings of the previous question, it is evident that there is a perception within the consumers that media is only regulated by self-interest and only focuses on aspects, which serve its own objectives.
As mentioned earlier, the survey included both media consumers and personnel, and while a majority agreed that media had not gained freedom in the true sense and the reason it being facing internal pressures from the owners and advertising interests. In a democratic system, the role of media is to highlight the issues faced by citizens, while also acting as a channel of communication between people and the state. It assists the citizens in making informed decisions and facilitates them in taking initiatives. Unfortunately, our media seems to have lost that connection with citizens and is only concentrated upon gaining ground in the competition for ratings.
This survey may not be convincing for many and it was not meant to be one; rather, it was intended to only acquire a taste of where media stands among the consumers. Personally, I doubt that a more comprehensive survey with better tools, larger sample size and wider representation will present any different results. The consumers have conveyed their message through other mediums and this survey. The important aspect is that this has been realised by media itself and media outlets along with journalists are taking steps to improve and uphold the standards of journalism. People require media not to provide them with noise, but education and assistance to strengthen the nascent democratic process and institutions.