Time for media to hold itself accountable
By Mazhar Abbas
In the backdrop of the ongoing media war, controversies and accusations ‘of the media, by the media and on the media’, revolving around senior journalists (myself included) and TV anchors, enforcement of existing national and global media ethics is required.
There is the Meher Bokhari and Mubashar Lucman leaked interview and then the list of 19 journalists (on which my name is also included) who have been accused of taking money and plots, but without any proof being provided for this claim.
All this needs to be cleared: the matter should be investigated and those found guilty should be shown the door. The media must take a collective decision and an independent media complaints commission should be constituted in consultation with the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors and Pemra.
The two-member bench constituted by the Supreme Court to examine the leaked interview should expand its scope to basic media ethics since these have also been questioned in the Supreme Court’s short order in the Arsalan Iftikhar case. Till the outcome of this probe by the SC, a ceasefire is needed among anchors, journalists and TV channels. Furthermore, serious debate and introspection is required among all the stakeholders on the enforcement of a code of conduct and code of professional ethics.
Enforcement of the following code by all stakeholders can help the media regain its lost credibility and play a key role in rebuilding a democratic society in the long-run. 1) A journalist shall regard, as a grave professional offence, the acceptance of a bribe in any form (cash or gifts, tickets, plots, etc.) in consideration of either publication of an article or its suppression. 2) All associations of journalists, owners, editors and broadcasters should make it mandatory for all members to declare their assets every year. An accountability committee should be formed and those who don’t do this should be barred from contesting union elections. 3) Owners and editors must issue standard operating procedures that no one from their respective organisations will go on official tours on government or a private party’s expense. Editors or owners should not accompany the prime minister or president and instead should nominate reporters or anchors for such tours. 4) All unions must review their relationship with the government of the day particularly because of the tendency among governments to give members of press clubs plots. If we really think ourselves to be a mirror of society, we should behave and act like ordinary people. 5) News should not be suppressed or compromised based on commercial considerations. 6) Reporters should avoid expressing comment or conjecture as proven fact. 7) A journalist should always protect a confidential source of information. 8) A journalist shall ensure that any information he provides via his writings is fair, accurate and not subject to falsification or distortion. 9) A journalist should not distort or suppress the truth for commercial, institutional or other reasons. 10) The proprietor must not suppress a news report merely because of commercial considerations. 11) Journalists, editors or owners should never accept favours and bribes offered to influence their professional duties. 12) Journalists should aspire to be independent and this means that they should avoid being partisan. 13) To keep their record clean, all media bodies must invite independent audit companies for their annual audit and should then publish their financial reports for the information of the general public.
We — journalists, editors and owners — have a moral responsibility to prove that we really are society’s ‘mirror’.