Media as a guide and monster
By: Fazal Muhammad Khan
Media has become a powerful actor in the modern world, particularly in Pakistan. Media inclusive of traditional media and social media primarily aims at informing, educating and entertaining the public; but in doing it so; it at times have worked to lead its viewers and/or readers in Pakistan to sociopolitical chaos in various ways. That being said, it helped prop up militancy and extremism, presented unethical contents to the viewers, succumbed to ideological division, and became the harbinger for online extremist communication.
Said in another way given the nature of programs ranging from entertainment to awareness-creating ones which the traditional media present to its audience, and in the case of social media, unrestrained freedom in blogging, posting and viewing; media has assumed both the role of a guide vis-à-vis fabricating public opinion regarding a particular state policy and promoting culture, and the face of a monster vis-à-vis molding the public opinion in the desired (read it “undesired”) direction and procreating turmoil in the socio-cultural setup via its presentation of morally-banged unethical contents.
Traditional media has served the purpose of assuaging the tensions and enhancing harmony among the masses. In the restoration of disposed judiciary in Pakistan in March 2009, for instance, the people from different cultures unified for a common purpose of restoration and freedom of the judiciary. The most recent example of Shahzaib murder by Shah Rukh Jatoi and Saraj Talpar, is the best one with media turning up the stage strongly condemning the infamous Wadera Shahi culture in lieu of the murder. Earlier this year, the “Uproar” of Allama Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri and his contingent long march using media fascinated many viewers towards itself.
In a bid to economic education of the masses, media brought to limelight the infamous Haj Scam in Pakistan in 2010 which cost Qadri and Azam Khan Swati their ministries. NICL case, ephiderine case and Rental Power Project scam are some other examples.
In a similar fashion, social Media amplifies and often breaks the stories which the traditional media does not break. For example, a video on You Tube of Pakistan paramilitary forces in 2011 shooting at an unarmed young man begging for his life went viral and invited the wrath of masses via blogs, posts and tweets.
Besides, social media promote and accelerate humanitarian efforts by mobilizing, advertising and coordinating initiatives. This was on full display during the 2010 catastrophic floods in Pakistan that stormed the country badly. With government and international efforts bleakly insufficient, public used Facebook, blogs and online forums for funds donation and relief supplies.
By the same token, social media establishes link among the masses by advocating for social causes. In other words, social media has helped promote such common causes as uniform and universal education for all, eradication of poverty, saying no to stereotypes, women’s rights etc.
Finally, social media serves as a resourceful stimulant of political communication among the leaders and the masses. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan, for example, boasts 300,000 followers in Twitter, with 35000 followers, Chief Minister Panjab Shabaz Sharif seconding the list.
Notwithstanding its constructive role, however, media inclusive of traditional and social media has proved at times to pledge a destructive part vis-à-vis directing the public opinion in the desired dimensions and its plentiful show of unethical contents bring the social and moral demoralization. The list of the reasons is big: inability, or perhaps the unwillingness, of those at helm of affairs of the media to develop mature editorial scrutiny; the failure of state authorities to clearly define the code of conduct and the rules for censorship universally accepted by all media channels; mushroom growth of private ownership of media channels by the private investors who use such channels for the pursuance of their own political, economic and ideological interest etc.
Driven by the desires of “Going Live” and infected by “Breaking News Syndrome”; media, in particular the electronic media, remains active 24/7 to look for the news, albeit demoralizing and disintegrating and not in the best interest of viewers. Terrorist, often cognizant with the fact, exploit this media appetite by planning and executing their strategic acts meticulously and efficiently such that media is left with no but Hobson’s choice of giving those acts coverage, notwithstanding the fact that this may be detrimental to the viewers. Such media-terrorist symbiosis can be explicitly observed in Marriot Hotel attack 2008.
Social media also poses serious risks of deepening ideological divide amongst the masses. Ideological bifurcation of nation on Malala explicitly reflects this risk.
Besides, Social media even risks becoming a safe haven of online communication for extremists and terrorists. Terrorist outfits, such as al-Qaida, continue using social media for the preaching of their ideologies to the general masses which may appear appealing to the easily unexploited faction of the masses and hence, attract a large number of recruiters. The display and wide access of unethical contents due to the lack of regulation is yet another drawback consistently hampering the constructive role of social media.
In a nutshell, media is the power stimulant of the masses in its constructive role of creating public awareness; its destructive part, however, of demoralizing and dividing the masses on ideological basis needs to be tapped. Various such measures of bringing media back to its normal constructive sphere would be widely accepted code of conduct, policy aspects of regulation, training and capacity building of the media men and other such acts (of legislation etc.).