Electronic media ethics
TRUTH was not the only casualty the day that Shahid Masood aired his since-debunked claims regarding the Zainab rape-murder case on his TV programme.
Already stretched judicial and law-enforcement resources were diverted to investigate his allegations, which were so sensational and politicised that they detracted from and threatened to diminish the very real horror of this case.
That the Supreme Court took notice of this instance of fake news and sanctioned the person responsible for spreading it might be viewed as a positive development — but it should not have come to this.
At its best, the electronic media exposes the excesses of power. But as a potent force itself, particularly in defining public opinion, it must practise the same commitments and hold its own to account.
Mr Masood is certainly not the first TV anchor to have broadcast misinformation on air. Nor will he be the last, unless the independence and effectiveness of Pemra is guaranteed, and our media houses work collectively to develop and maintain a code of conduct for news coverage.
Granted, in a 24-hour news cycle, split-second decisions often need to be made that might not always be the best in hindsight. But such failures go unchecked (or are even tacitly encouraged) when the authority of a media house’s own news and current affairs director is circumvented to cater to ratings, personal agendas or special interests.
Their autonomy and strength within organisations must be ensured.
Moreover, an industry-wide committee of such directors must be constituted to build consensus on a range of ethical issues, and to adopt checks and balances accordingly.
Adherence to a time-lag for terrorism-related coverage is one example of the maturity Pakistan’s electronic media displays when it works together. But the industry has a duty to serve the public’s interests better.
This paper stands with our broadcast journalist peers in defending press freedoms, but in the course of doing so, we must acknowledge the enormous responsibility we have to command those rights fairly and honestly.