“Social decline has also affected the media”
The News on Sunday: As media, especially the electronic media, continues to grow in Pakistan, its negative as well as positive sides have come to light. Comment.
I. A. Rehman: We are in a transitional phase. We have no consensus on where we are headed or what kind of society we are going to become. In this situation, everybody is free to interpret what is ‘national interest’.
Secondly, the media, particularly the electronic media, is way too young and immature to meet the required standards.
Having said that, regardless of what’s happening in the media, I believe media is responsible for two things: a)reporting what is worth reporting, and b)helping the people formulate proper views on different things. Now, since everything is topsy-turvy in Pakistan, people do not know how to view these things.
We understand that in a society like ours, there can be a ‘motivated media’. Individuals such as TV anchors can have their own ideas that suit their interests. But there are interests of the proprietors. Their expectations depend sometimes on gains from a party or a group. On the other hand, the people should also understand the difficulties of media. Partisan roles are played everywhere in the world to run down certain groups, parties etc. They are selective in many things they do. For example, the media instantly picks on anything happening anywhere in which the government is thrashed by the judiciary. In Philippines, a chief justice was removed by the parliament; the news was not repeated.
TNS: Do you think media reporting and conduct are appreciable?
IAR: Our media does a fair job of reporting but sometimes it is not accurate. It is also not always straightforward and it doesn’t bother taking the point of view of the other side. When I began in journalism, we were told not to report the FIRs (First Information Reports) because they are merely an allegation and accusation, and allegation damages the reputation of the person who may eventually be declared innocent.
Similarly, with regard to the role of the judiciary, we were told that until a petition is submitted we cannot publish it. Today, we see petitions are published in newspapers even before they have been filed in the court.
The best way to tackle such stories is to present all possible viewpoints together. I think most people in the media, especially those who conduct talk shows, come to work with a particular mindset on an issue and they try to get likeminded guests on the show. I call these promotional shows.
TNS: Do you think the media should have a proper code of conduct?
IAR: First and foremost, every organisation should have its code of conduct/ethics. The media persons should not be party to falsehood. Secondly, they must investigate a story properly. And, when they have investigated it, no one should be allowed to meddle with it.
Last but not the least, one should accept the responsibility for what one writes or says in the media.
Big organisations should ideally have an ombudsman office. I am sure there is a code of conduct already in place for the media but it is not implemented. It can be implemented and accepted only as competition grows.
Presently, there is little competition on quality; the competition is on ‘novelty’. So, what happens when the novelty wears out? I have yet to see in electronic media that someone apologised or admitted their mistakes.
TNS: Is print a better medium?
IAR: In print, there is a process of thinking and rethinking — a kind of a built-in corrective mechanism. This is not so on TV. You can edit recorded programmes but not live shows and the element of thinking and rethinking lacks completely. We need to be more careful when doing TV journalism, because it leaves little to the imagination.
In print media, the reader is expected to have a level of understanding and literacy. In TV, you do not need that, as everybody from a child to an illiterate person is watching it.
TNS: Do you think the situation demands a review of the existing media laws?
IAR: Laws should only be about crime. If a crime is committed it must be brought under the purview of law. The propagation of hatred and crime is not permitted. We cannot regulate things except when a crime is committed. We need self regulation and respect of public view, though.
Defamation also falls in the jurisdiction of crime. I am opposed to any special media laws. Crime in media should also fall in the jurisdiction of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). If somebody tells lies, defames or incites someone in the media, it is a clear offence.
Hate speech is also a criminal offence. I am opposed to regulating media with certain laws.
Also, the social capital of a society is reflected in the media. Unlike India, our social capital is limited. Since we have a small social capital, our media is immature.
TNS: How do you see the social media? Has it assumed the role of the whistleblower?
IAR: There are good as well as bad aspects of the social media. The good part is that people express themselves and share information. It can be a small pressure group only. The bad part is that many times they do it without any thought or consideration. This media is also related to our social maturity. The society is declining and the values are going down. The words that were considered bad and were never used in public are now openly used. This social decline has also affected the media.
To improve such media, there is a need to improve the general discourse in our society. Weak discourse can be corrected by a healthy discourse. But we lack discourse.
TNS: How to hold the media accountable to the public?
IAR: Increase in social capital will automatically lead to media accountability. People will start analysing things being shown on TV. There can be accountability only of crime in media at this point. The other will come through evolution. Until then, we as a society will have to pay for that.
There is a role for educational institutions, parliament and civil society to play, in order to form public opinion.
In an underdeveloped society, the anchorpersons, just as the common people, have not gone through the mill. Our pool of talent is small and limited; we need to increase it. The sphere and base of the society is small. Since talent is lacking, things are uneven and monopolised. There is no healthy competition. The internet industry competition is very low.
TNS: Does media lack training?
IAR: Yes, media needs to train itself properly. But it must be remembered that only media training cannot improve things. It all depends on social development and this will, definitely, take time.