The menace in media
The events of the last week that have come to be known as ‘FamilyGate’ and ‘BahriaGate’ have given rise to a new gate yesterday: MediaGate. In a document printed on a Bahria Town letterhead, 19 journalists and media personnel have allegedly received kickbacks and bribes from Malik Riaz. On the heels of that startling but so far unsubstantiated document, the latest storm on social, print and electronic media unleashed after behind the scenes footage of a private TV channel found its way to YouTube. All hell broke loose as the ‘friendly’, personal talk/arguments between the interviewee and the interviewers were caught on tape and leaked on the internet. As the drama takes a public shape, the ‘tarnished’ channel in order to clear its name as two of its most prominent anchors face public and media condemnation, the response as expected is allegations of the unsavoury manipulation by a rival TV channel.
There are a few things to be said about this. These allegations are a slap in the face of journalism in Pakistan and an insult to the 65-year struggle it took for good people to establish a free media in Pakistan. It wasn’t always like this: personal.
As the latest media scandal upset the public’s sensibilities who hold certain individuals as a beacon of hope for Pakistan’s media as perpetrators of truth, it has also tarnished the country’s image abroad, making a spectacle of itself. The phenomenon of a ‘planted’ interview as it hollows out the credibility of the media, coupled with the allegation that certain prominent journalists are on the payroll of a certain businessman is a very serious development. It is now the duty of these 19 journalists to come clean on these allegations. For the most part, the media has never been subjected to accountability — whether it comes to incorrect facts or journalistic ethics. The owners and PEMRA turn a blind eye. Owners are driven by profits, swept up in a rat race of ratings. Most anchors and journalists have received no formal training and have a non- professional attitude. Their shooting to fame overnight empowers them, thus becoming a double-edged sword when they use it for ‘illicit’ acts, based on greed and an ugly rush to make professional advances.
Started by TV anchors hurling allegations at each other on air, is this what airtime is meant to be used for? The CJP’s son’s alleged corruption charges are revealed by some anchors from a major media house; then it escalates and engulfs many, snowballing into the revelation of the list of 19 journalists, including the ones who presented the scoop.
Why is this happening? Generally speaking, society has thrown all codes of ethics and morality out of the window. The clamour about alleged corruption in the media is the latest reflection of this virtually universal affliction in society. Journalists do not descend from the heavens, they are products of this very society, hence exhibiting a reckless behaviour that has become so commonplace it is considered a norm. Professionalism was to be the bedrock of the free media, but unfortunately not so anymore apparently if the example of the black sheep in the field is anything to go by . A multitude of inexperienced or unscrupulous journalists, after overnight excessive importance, have made a mess of a hitherto respectable profession.
In the age of social media, whose power is an unfiltered double-edged sword, unsavoury results are sometimes produced as a result of an unlimited capacity to express yourself without fear or favour. It is some kind of accountability in itself, going into areas that old media could not venture into as easily.
The latest development should serve as an example: it is time to look inwards. Breaking news is a tricky business; the ratings’ race is unchartered territory, which could lead to conscious and tacit victimisation of individuals and organisations. It is time journalists accepted responsibility for the huge task resting on their shoulders vis-à-vis the authenticity and veracity of what they present. A culture of corrections, explanations, and apologies must be incorporated. The ability to accept an error has been thrown out of the window in today’s rat race of ratings. A system of concrete reprimands and censure must be implemented. In that regard, the suo motu notice taken by the Supreme Court could apply a corrective, emhasising the importance of a proper system of veracity checks and balances. *