‘Boom Boom’ journalism
By: M Bilal Lakhani
Inspired by the most entertaining cricket sensation in the country, it appears that most Pakistani journalists want to change the world with every story they report. ‘Go big, or go home’; that’s the mantra that has come to define Pakistan’s media landscape today. This mantra would explain the flood of breaking news cluttering our television screens every night. Media outlets are constantly on the lookout for the next big story, resulting in a cocktail of noise and sensationalism that passes for news in Pakistan. As a consequence, citizens are struggling to glean the ‘news’ from the ‘noise’ in the country.
Surveying this landscape, would it be fair to conclude that Pakistan’s free press, much like its fragile democracy, appears to be desirable in theory and intrinsically flawed in practice?
It’s increasingly clear that commercial pressures on news outlets are leading to a race to the bottom, with ratings driving a never-ending supply of sensationalism and ‘mirch masala’ infotainment dressed up as news. Tune into any television channel and observe the fixed template that defines prime time news in Pakistan: ‘in the headlines — X, Y and Z happened today. In news analysis, X, Y and Z are the latest in a series of damning incidents that demonstrate the complete failure of the government to deliver results for the people in the last five years.’
This is the equivalent of a premeditated shot in cricket. In cricket, whenever a batsman — particularly with a ‘Boom Boom’ temperament — misses a premeditated shot, he is sent back to the pavilion. Unfortunately, no such pavilion of shame exists for Pakistani journalists, engaging in the ‘hit and miss’ culture embedded in sensational reporting.
In Pakistan, the job description of a journalist appears to include confronting, embarrassing and rhetorically defeating every politician (read: David) on behalf of the common man (read: Goliath). In short, a journalist can do everything except actually seeking to objectively understand a particular story. Alas, the Pakistani journalist is so busy holding powerful people ‘accountable’ that seeking the truth is only important in so far as it can help him achieve his premeditated objectives.
If you step out of Pakistan, credible journalists have the potential to single-handedly make or break public opinion on national issues. For example, after a not-so-glowing report on the Vietnam War by legendary broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, American President Lyndon Johnson is famously reported to have concluded that “if I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America”. Can you name a single Pakistani journalist who can make or break public opinion on a particular national issue? Not really. This is exactly why Pakistan has such a fractured media landscape today. Citizens prefer getting their news from multiple sources to account for credibility gaps in individual news sources. News consumers piece together a complete picture of the truth themselves, instead of relying on journalists who are employed full-time to do this. Unfortunately, this is a time consuming process and Pakistani citizens are increasingly avoiding this in favour of a different expectation from journalists.
News consumers no longer expect Pakistani journalists to help them understand the truth objectively. Instead, they expect reporting that projects one version of reality, which enables them to reinforce their own larger narrative about the country, including their conspiracy theory of choice. Put simply, Pakistani citizens want journalists to tell them what they want to hear about the country. This is a reflection of and a contribution to the broader trend of polarisation in Pakistani society. If your consumption of news simply reinforces your worldview and drowns out challenges to your thought process, it will eventually lower your tolerance for differing points of view.
Fortunately for Pakistan, there is one potential upside to this otherwise sorry state of affairs. Pakistan’s media landscape today presents a ripe opportunity for journalists and news outlets to step up and carve a niche for themselves as the ‘go to place’ for credible, objective reporting. Creating an island of excellence and objectivity in reporting will enable news outlets to fill a real vacuum that Pakistani news consumers will reward with ratings.
Source: The Express Tribune