Media In The Spotlight
By: ZUBEIDA MUSTAFA
THE two-member media commission’s recommendation for consultations on the review of all media laws and codes could not have been more timely. The fact is that lately a lot of concern has been expressed vocally by discerning observers about the damage the media is inflicting on our society.
Any forum, which is even distantly related to the press or television, invariably turns into an occasion to condemn their waywardness. TV receives a greater share of the flak because of its higher visibility/reach and potential to influence people’s mindsets.
The issue of ethics in journalism has been around for quite some time but has evaded all solution. Those of the older generation who have struggled for press freedom for years are naturally reluctant to hand over powers to the government to regulate the freedom of expression which a code can accomplish.
Hence the demand has been for voluntary self-regulation by journalists’ professional bodies and media proprietors. This calls for a high sense of responsibility on the part of journalists and the willingness of media houses to forego some of their stupendous profits. One hopes that the research the Pakistan Press Foundation is now doing on the needs’ assessment of ethical journalism will help in the review process.
What is disturbing is that many evils that affect the media today are not easy to rectify in isolation. One may well argue that the media is an extension of society, as was stated so succinctly by Islamabad-based Dr Salman Asif, the UN gender adviser. If society has lost all sense of fairness, compassion and integrity and is totally insensitive to the concerns of the community, can the media become a paragon of virtue?
This issue came up for discussion in a forum organised by a group of doctors (mostly women) who took strong objection to the violence being portrayed on our TV screens.
A senior journalist made the plea that the media was reflecting what is actually happening in society. But my contention is that information can be conveyed without suppressing it; however, this has to be done in a discreet manner. Does every bit of news have to be disseminated very graphically and in a tone that betrays panic and excitement?
A media that is indifferent to a society’s concerns is the most horrendous thing that can happen to a people. It manifests itself in sensationalism of the worst kind especially on television that has come to dominate the media scene.
The era of the glory of the printed word is long past. For television it is a race to earn higher profits by beating rivals in breaking news and grabbing ratings. Media managers are throwing ethics, rationality and decency to the winds. Rules of professionalism are being flouted. There are rare exceptions; some do want to be ethical and professional — but they are invariably individuals and not organisations.