Society too polarised to hold media accountable for misdeeds
KARACHI: The media should be held accountable for its misdeeds but society is unable to perform its due role, because it is highly polarized, said journalist Owais Tohid at a panel discussion Taming the Media Beast: State Regulation vs Self Regulation held at The Second Floor on Thursday evening.
The panellists were Mr Tohid along with journalist Afia Salam, former PTV MD Raana Shaikh and Geo`s director strategy and planning/ business development head Faisal Sherjan with journalist Zarrar Khuro as moderator.
The discussion comes at a time when Pakistan`s media, particularly the electronic side, has been embroiled in various controversies due to the lack of regulation and ethics.
Mr Tohid, who headed some leading news channels in the country, said that calling the media a beast would not change things.
Sharing an anecdote, he said: `In villages, when an animal was on heat, it was confined to a room, but after a while it was allowed to roam freely. The same can be said for the media. It has to live with this society.
Highlighting the threats faced by Pakistans media persons, he said that compared to the censorship and troubles faced under Zias rule, at present the situation had worsened, with threats from non-state actors coming from all sides.
Sharing her experience at the state-run TV channel, Ms Sheikh said PTV had to toe the line, and even that backfires at times. There is a constant tug-of-war.
She said that PTV was interested in producing talk shows and current affairs but not entertainment but that changed in her tenure. `I feel that freedom of the media reflects the level of democracy in a country, she said.
Commenting on the mushroom growth of channels, she said, `The private channels discovered the power of the media. They also educated the people, giving them a chance to become informed and have an opinion.
Illustrating her point, she shared as to howthe 1971 war was never highlighted in the country, with the ministry issuing rhetorical statements that all was well. Only when General Niazi gave up, the country came to know of Bangladesh, she remarked much to the astonishment of the young audience.
Regulation is not censorship, said Mr Sherjan as he went on to dispel various notions about the much-maligned ratings and the advertisers.
Take for instance the case that headline news cannot be sponsored. Now its the regulators job to ensure this, he said.
The regulators job is to create diversity of views and opinion, not spew it in one direction. The issue in Pakistans media is that theres no separation between the editorial and ownership,` he said.
Highlighting the commercial aspect, he said the media was monetising traffic and in the process dumbing down. In Pakistans media there are several examples where the owners have become the editors,` he said.
Explaining the Television Rating Points (TRP) system, he said that for a country with a massive population, there were only 750people meters, with none in Balochistan. He further dispelled the myth that ratings were controlling the content.
Interjecting, Ms Salam said: Did people ever say no to good content in PTV days? She went on to cite the example of Hum TV that offered entertainment content when most people were glued onto news channels.
She stressed the need for finding out exactly what was turning the media into a beast.
On the occasion, Ms Shiekh said that there should be strong libel laws to stop channels from indulging in smear campaigns, adding: `Should also be legislation to improve performance? But then maybe I am being too idealistic.
Responding to a question, Mr Tohid said: `Hate speech should never be allowed in the media, say no to it publicly. By giving these hate mongers space, you are legitimising them.
While the discussion pretty much remained inconclusive, it highlighted the fact that Pakistan`s civil society needs to become more active and take the media to task whenever gross violations of ethics are committed.