All the news unfit to air -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

All the news unfit to air

The writer is a former vice-chairman of the HRCP and has spent over three decades in advertising zohra.yusuf@tribune.com.pk

“The media is a dragon that needs to be fed every day.” Those at the receiving end of the electronic media’s insatiable hunger for stories, half or fully baked, would whole-heartedly agree – except that the remark had been made by President Asif Ali Zardari in an interview with Herald last month. It was clear that Zardari was feeling the heat of the dragon relentlessly breathing down his back and that there was little he could do to tame it. And while, judging by his government’s poor performance in almost all areas, there can barely be any sympathy for him, it can also be argued that a section of the media has clearly crossed the boundaries that any claim to fair reporting demands.

The Jang media group’s onslaught on the PPP government and, more specifically, its co-chairperson, refuses to subside. In fact, for many months now, news on Geo can hardly be called that. Edited song clips from Bollywood films, juxtaposed with images of the PPP leadership, ridicule the leading lights of the party. On October 19, following the juvenile style of attack on Geo by PPP Punjab assembly members, the channel chose to hit back in a tasteless style, though restraint would have brought it some respect. The main news bulletin consisted of songs, selected clips to project the PPP leadership as liars, as well as personal tirades and rebuttals from those journalists attacked by the Punjab assembly members. Some of them, led by senior minister Raja Riaz, rose to accuse the Jang group of all the sins in the country, from being Indian and Jewish agents to corruption, loan default and tax evasion. Coming from a leadership not exactly known for the virtue of financial integrity, the tirade against the media group created little sympathy for the party. The PPP also tried to retaliate by ordering its members to boycott the Jang group and used bullying tactics against one of its own central executive committee members, Sherry Rehman. Her house was attacked by an armed mob of PPP workers on October 23.

Earlier, October 14 saw yet another low point in the history of television channels. Three leading news channels reported that the government had decided to withdraw the notification that had restored the judges of the Supreme Court in March last year. Originally aired by Aaj, the ‘breaking news’ was too enticing for others not to be drawn in. Soon, Geo and ARY were also excitedly repeating the unauthenticated ‘news’, even as the Aaj reporter responsible for the scoop disappeared.

The repercussions of this piece of speculative reporting were many, the most alarming one being the late night ‘emergency’ meeting of the Supreme Court judges amidst fears of another executive-judiciary confrontation. While it’s said that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, responsible reporting demands confirmation of facts before broadcast. In fact, the inquiry committee set up to ascertain the origins of the news concluded that it was unsubstantiated.

Whenever a crisis brews due to irresponsible reporting, there is talk of the need for an independent media commission, but little action. Some time back, five television channels, responding to complaints from viewers, voluntarily agreed not to show gory footage of suicide bombings – and mercifully there are fewer bloody images. The Express Tribune has taken a commendable step in appointing Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim as ombudsman to address complaints. However, it would have been better if his authority extended over the entire Express media group as there is a greater need for accountability of the Urdu newspaper and channel belonging to the group.
Source: The Express Tribune
Date:11/9/2010