VIEW: The bottom line —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
It is the public who has been fuelling this sensationalism and it is the populace that remains quiet over the irresponsibility of the media. While we may put the entire blame on the media, being consumers we also have a responsibility
Ratings or Target Rating Points (TRPs) have become the buzzwords and are a cliché for judging which programme or channel is popular among the public. Perhaps one of the victims of this never ending competition among the media outlets has been Maya Khan. Striving to increase her popularity graph, with the objective of improving the marketing effectiveness of her programme, she stooped to the level where she considered it ethically right to chase after couples and invade their privacy. The question that comes to mind is: is she the only one currently engaged in such actions? The answer is simply no. Let me give the example of a highly rated and popular programme, anchored by two very senior and highly regarded journalists. The topic was the closure of Sindh University and various people were giving their viewpoint on the highly volatile and politicised situation. To my horror, while informing of the unavailability of the vice-chancellor, one of them disclosed the mobile number of the individual on live television. Perhaps in frustration or on the spur of the moment, he somehow deemed it as a right action. Is this not invasion of privacy? Was there any need to disclose the private number of a citizen of Pakistan, related to a situation that is not only highly politicised but also violent? Let’s not forget that the situation arose when a professor of the university was gunned down.
Maya Khan did not get away with her transgression, but there seems to be no hue and cry by anyone on other such transgressions by various senior journalists. She probably got thrown out because perhaps she had become a liability; others get away because they are too senior, too well connected and too popular to be even touched. Realistically speaking, both the print and electronic media in the prevalent corporate environment are being run as businesses, only concentrating on profits rather than putting their emphasis on providing responsible and impartial information to the citizens. In my opinion, good business is not a drawback, rather it is a plus point due to which the media can improve its infrastructure and acquire more resources while also covering the cost of running such an organisation. It is only when responsible reporting is replaced with sensationalism, impartiality is sacrificed for better ratings and space allocated for news and information is replaced with advertisements that the situation seems to be worrisome. The responsibility of the media is to provide unbiased and accurate information, leaving it to the consumers to form their opinion on the subject.
The media has witnessed a revolution in the past decade where there used to be a state monopoly over the electronic media. Within these years, over a 100 television and radio channels have started throughout the country. The number of journalists has risen from 2,000 in the year 2002 to an estimated 17,000. The circulation of the print media has also increased and the overall outreach of the media has swelled. Unfortunately, the competition, which should have been based on the quality of news and information, has diverted to only achieving better ratings by hook or by crook. Who are being depicted in these ratings? Who are the consumers of the media? Well of course it is us, the citizens. As the saying goes, people get the government they deserve and also the media they deserve. It is the public who has been fuelling this sensationalism and it is the populace that remains quiet over the irresponsibility of the media. While we may put the entire blame on the media, being consumers we also have a responsibility. We can demand from the media that given their freedom, they should also bring more responsibility and objectivity to the information they present to the public. A balance should be created between the advertiser and the reader by the media, where no one should be sacrificed for the sake of the other.
Specifically if we look at the mindset prevalent within the media, it seems that they have been unable to comprehend the situation at hand. As I have mentioned earlier, the media scenario in Pakistan has changed where the Pakistani media has witnessed nothing less than a revolution. Meanwhile, the country has also been engulfed in a conflict, where the journalists are facing continuous security threats, particularly in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. According to the International News Safety Institute (INSI), at least 12 journalists have been killed during the year 2011 alone. Even in such a demanding situation, there is still a union mindset prevalent in the media representative bodies. The recent effort of these bodies to implement the seventh Wage Award for the journalist community is a great achievement, but rather than limiting themselves to one certain issue, the circumstances demand more from them.
Let me take the case of Saleem Shahzad, where the commission was unable to present anything conclusive. Journalists carried out protests but we know that many journalists did not testify in front of the commission, which did not assist the investigation. The role of these media representative bodies in the new reality is not only to highlight the various predicaments facing the journalist community but also adopt measures towards addressing the predicaments. Only initialising a safety fund for the journalists is not sufficient. What about the safety measures for the media personnel? What about the journalists who are still operating under considerable risk, not only to their lives, but also to the lives of their families? These bodies should take the desired actions to implement safety and training mechanisms for the media personnel in the backdrop of the new challenges and issues arising in recent years. As long as the unions will not be able to leave the traditional mindset, the conditions for the media will not significantly change.
The writer is a development consultant. She can be reached at email@example.com