Towards circumspection in media -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Towards circumspection in media

During the past two weeks, while emotions of the entire nation had been at a high pitch over the safety of our nuclear assets and the fate of nuclear scientists, there emerged another weak area of our national psyche which needed careful and immediate handling.

To one’s dismay one discovered that the combination of the products of print media and electronic media is playing havoc with our cognitive activity and the power to analyse even serious matters. Various media have their own strong and weak areas. While television and radio are the most powerful tools of communication for information with immediate impact, film can best be used as a trendsetter and for long term impression.

Books, periodicals and daily newspapers, in spite of the electronic media, still impart an aura of authenticity that the printed word had established over many centuries.

The new mix of information media, while speeding the flow of knowledge and the news has led to the evolution of a new culture among the general public as well as people in the media. The public has become so dependent upon information in the capsule form that the availability of information has become an integral component of progress and human development. Lives of the vast majority of people are now tied down to the information that they need to plan their daily schedules. Disruption of news on television or radio or a newspaper holiday create a gap in most people’s life, resembling pangs of thirst and hunger.

This dependence may be welcomed as harbinger of a new world in which happenings in one part of the world are conveyed to rest of the planet in a flash: Many a time such speed could cause serious conflicts since it may not allow a pause for deliberation. The common man has thus become almost a silent spectator in a sea of information and disinformation much of which may be beyond his or her comprehension.

This situation varies according to the capacity of a society to understand and accept or reject a piece of information. The local or regional media tend to set their tone accordingly, to cater to the requirements and taste of their readers and audiences, much of which anyway, is product of the media themselves. The power to mould society and influence the individual spawns a sense of strength and independence which at times may touch arrogance. This has created an aura of fear and awe about the media. However, it is still sought for its power to promote and is feared for its capacity to demolish and expose.

Realisation of this potential and just and prudent use of power and privileges associated with the media in the past have produced some great publications and legendary editors, writers and reporters. However, the swiftness of the means of communication and the phenomenal expansion in their coverage have brought about basic changes in functions of the media and mind-set of their audiences, apparent in media products.

The present scene, however, is the product of two other factors. First: Advertising which has become backbone of the media. Ideologies, principles, social, cultural and political precepts get liberally mauled and placed at the altar of big advertisers irrespective of their origin and allegiance. Beefy clients, even from a rival country, are accommodated with open arms.

Newspapers and periodicals which claim to be absolutely moral and great believers in the well-being of society print highly injurious and sick full-page advertisements. Surprisingly, no effective action has been taken to stop these lewd advertisements, nor the flag-bearers of morality and Islamic values have moved even their little finger to stamp them out. One is constrained to conclude that the greatly revered institution of communication has chosen to become a serf to capitalist interests and money has become the main pursuit of their occupation, relegating journalism to an avocation.

The second pollutant has come through the aggressive production and marketing of the vast array of material produced by publishing and broadcasting empires in the Western World. Enormous resources, superior technology, extensive news-gathering networks and backing of large political machines have made media-related corporations the single most efficient and cheap source of material for use by media around the world. Due to their unique power, these monopolies succeed in pedalling wares that their owners and controllers want them to, in different parts of the world – and a different package to their own citizens. Reports, proclamations, capsuled propaganda, calculated leaks are beamed and wired to overwhelm the target country or region. Disinformation and fabricated tales are poured into information channels to misguide people and the governments of other nations. Official information offices abroad serve as centres of misguidance and disinformation.

Tragedy of media in the developing world is paucity of resources such as their dependence on foreign sources. It becomes a daunting task to scrutinise each and every item out of the flood of messages pouring in from agencies, television, radio, online outlets besides the information collected through local representatives. This gives an edge to foreign media. In the absence of information from one’s own sources, the local media are obliged to pick the latest news from international agencies or other sources like the electronic media. The result, in many cases, is calamitous. Totally concocted news items, twisted statements, distorted accounts and biased analysis find place in media of the Third World, without checking their intended objective thus creating confusion all around.

What struck one, during the last few weeks, about the debate on nuclear proliferation was the confusion created by combination of stories coming from all over the place and their accommodation by newspapers and electronic media. Being an issue which affected the core of everybody’s conscience, people were curious to know the facts and developments that were taking place by the hour. The newspapers came with their version only once in twenty hours. The gap was filled by electronic media – every half or one hour. Internet and ‘private information’supplemented the supply. The great gift of the US television, panels of experts added to the confusion by their pearls of wisdom and ‘deep historical insight’.What ensued was a casserole of news, numerous, misinterpretations, comments and opinion which defied scrutiny to separate truth from banter.

Despite major decisions, the chaff continues to appear, partly due to the urge to fill space and partly due to startling ‘revelations’ and statements from abroad.

The followers of a laissez-faire policy with respect to media may advocate the continuation of allowing full freedom to the press. One is grateful for that, as well for taking the media people into confidence frequently.

The weekly press briefings by the foreign office and occasional briefings by spokesman of the government are definitely a useful norm. But there remains the need for ‘policy’ briefings with specific national objectives, explaining what was really happening in the country and abroad – of the type that the Foreign Minister had on nuclear proliferation a few weeks earlier. It is worth pondering whether the lead stories of all major US news magazines and other channels are just a coincidence and the daily White House, State Department and Pentagon briefings are just a futile exercise undertaken routinely?

Source: The News
Date:2/12/2004