VIEW : Electronic media at crossroads — Amir Hamza Bangash
Of the reasons responsible for the poor show of TV channels, it could be the untrained journalists working in conflict-hit areas, and in the respective media sections
The founding father of today’s
private electronic media world, operating in Pakistan, is indeed the one who stayed in power for long wearing a uniform. But perhaps it would have been beyond his vision that media outlets in Pakistan would challenge him to such an extent, challenges that resulted in his being ousted from power. That the media at present is this powerful is the product of a hard struggle, and of sacrifices made by the different media practitioners, civil society members and the ordinary local citizens over a long period.
The mushroom growth of electronic media in Pakistan since the 2002 PEMRA Ordinance has indeed brought an ‘Information Revolution’ among the listeners and viewers, providing them with an access to many such issues that were left untouched before. However, with the growth of the media channels in the country, the line of responsibility and the aim of journalism have also grown, both in latitudinal and longitudinal ways. Now, the debate is whether the present status of reporting different issues by these media outlets is fully in harmony with the responsibilities shouldered on journalists, and if they uphold the scale of quality journalism.
In Pakistan, when a debate starts about these media outlets, you often hear the popular cliché that the media is in the ‘teething stage’ and that it ‘will learn with the passage of time’. My personal assessment is that now media in Pakistan has crossed that age, and is mature enough to be redirected, as it has found the capacity in itself to raise the voice for its own sake, and has the capability to fight for the people’s rights at large and to make the movements popular, as well as successful. So, on any measured scale, it will arrive at a point where it can be called a ‘mover and shaker’, which provides enough space for scholars to criticise it in an academic way for its better future.
Probably the best way to judge any individual, institution or organisation is to study in detail its role performed during a challenging crisis. This portrays the broad picture of the working conditions and nerves of the people, and sums up their strengths and weaknesses while handling the crisis. So, it will be indeed good if we assess the Pakistani TV channels performance in their coverage of the war on terror, a war that has badly struck Pakistan’s economy, law and order, and the socio-cultural conditions of the people lagging behind the standard grade.
If the media coverage of war on terror is properly analysed, then the most important thing that strikes us is that it is mostly reported in a very superficial way. Private TV channels in Pakistan might be well versed in breaking the news about events, and reporting in real-time to the audience. With regard to the war on terror, this role allows them to be the first among the public, providing information connected to bomb attacks, suicide attacks, live coverage of terrorist attacks (Like in Manawa and GHQ attacks), as well as footage of these incidents, accounts of eye witnesses, victims, and concerned government officials.
Most of this coverage, if analysed, will fall in the orbit of Superficial Narratives, stressing a debate on the surficial layer lying atop the issue, but will lack in-depth insight of terror. Most of the news coverage of the private TV channels has failed to address some important factors: rise in suicide attacks, motives of the Taliban in carrying out different attacks in different places, repercussions of terror on the people at large, inability of the security and intelligence officials of Pakistan in policing terror, and growth of the power of the Taliban up to the extent to challenge the government’s writ in a country with a very powerful army.
Such ‘bullet to bullet’ reporting is not the solution to an issue, but indeed it is part of the issue itself, and one that needs to be properly addressed. It might be true that giving round the clock coverage to issues in such a volatile way will never result in a healthy public opinion, but it will always yield only one-sided, shallow and fragile public opinion, which can be easily broken and mended as needed. To have a healthier informative society, we need to have a healthier public opinion as well. This needs to be based on the full range of narratives, from multiple sides, coupled with diversity of sources and information.
Beyond superficiality, other criticism that needs to be addressed in the private TV channels’ coverage of terror is the similarity of themes repeated in their broadcasts over time. Such a homogeneous way of looking into the issues prevent the diversity of viewpoints being provided to the viewers, and curtails the creativity of the journalists who might be eager to look differently at an issue. Such media coverage also creates doubts about the open plagiarism practised within the media by one another. It compels us to think that they must come up with their own agenda; otherwise many scholars may feel to keep majority of their coverage in the folder labeled ‘filler’. Such coverage may provide oxygen to these media outlets for a while, but in the long run, it could create more problems, and can even endanger their own survival.
Of the reasons responsible for the poor show of TV channels, it could be the untrained journalists working in conflict-hit areas, and in the respective media sections. War on terror can be metaphorically best matched with a big finale, hosted in our country, but unfortunately, we are not equipped with enough good players, pitches, wickets and all other necessary equipment to respond accordingly. Such issues need to be addressed more by the media researchers, practitioners and media owners; otherwise scattered views of the issue will result in a vague picture, further depriving the already deprived nation.
The launching rack for the private TV channels might have been provided by the military warrior, but now the real credit will go to the one who puts these electronic media outlets on the right track, having the torch of investigative reporting in hand, the burden of true ethical and objective journalism on its shoulder, and the vision of making the healthiest public opinion in mind.
Source: Daily Times