Taking stock: Pakistan has ‘unprofessional journalists and professional readers’

Published: September 24, 2011

Amir Zia acknowledged that journalists face pressure from their desk editors for giving sensational pieces.

KARACHI: Libel and defamation is taken lightly by journalists in Pakistan, journalist Amir Zia told a seminar on media ethics at the Karachi Press Club on Friday, adding that this had led to a rise in sensationalism.

The seminar was held to mark International Media Ethics Day. Zia, who is Business Editor at The News, told the few listeners at the gathering that one of the important issues in the media today was the credibility of sources and the extent that journalists go to protect them. “It is a very hard job,” he said, while talking about the profession, adding “many journalists have gone to jail because they did not reveal their sources.”

The seminar focused on increasing the capacity of investigative journalism for a responsible media in Pakistan. Taking the issue further, Aamir Latif of Online News Agency, talked about the importance of journalists to protect their sources. Latif said that investigative journalism in Pakistan was a reality and that people should be aware that everything they say or do “has ramifications.” He also said that a journalist should be careful of his or her credibility and the credibility of his or her sources.

Latif pointed out the fact that Pakistan now had “unprofessional journalists and professional readers”.

Suzanne Harris of the Centre of International Media Ethics (CIME), who joined the discussion over video link, said that the media in Britain was more legally bound than in other countries and had in place many ethical practices. “Journalists are very careful when they report something,” she claimed.

Harris also had some advice for Pakistani journalists in terms of ethics. She urged them not to barge into the privacy of the victims’ family when there was a blast or any other act of terror. “Instead they should ask for consent before speaking to the family members,” she added.

The speakers talked about how journalists should know the motive of the terrorist – “it’s not just blowing up bombs,” said Amir Zia, adding “a journalist should be able to gauge it and not help in advancing the terrorists’ cause.”

He acknowledged that journalists face pressure from their desk editors for giving sensational pieces, to which Latif commented that journalists are “commandos” and should work out ways for themselves.

Zia also raised his voice against the practice of showing blood-soaked bodies and violence on TV and said that many television channels in Pakistan are indulging in this practice. He added that with the inception of blogs and new media, journalists are facing new challenges due to which “many journalists blend fact and fiction.”

The discussion then moved on from media laws and ethics to job security and the economic crunch in the media industry in Pakistan. The journalists present asked questions about their job security and payment of salaries to which Zia said the crunch in the media was being witnessed around the world. In the US recently, 350 to 400 newspapers had shut down. Latif observed that the newspaper industry was shrinking in the West but was growing in South Asia.

The conference was organised by Mishal Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th,  2011.

Reader Comments (9)

  • Sep 24, 2011 - 11:33AM

    I liked this nicely written article.
    Media must not violate the journalism ethics!


  • elyas kakar
    Sep 24, 2011 - 2:16PM

    journalists must differentiate between freedom of speech and freedom of ethics.


  • Sidra Riaz
    Sep 24, 2011 - 3:16PM

    Yes, I think free media does not equal “unchecked” or “uncontrolled” media. Checks and balances are important, not just for government institutions, but also for all private institutions as well. And since media has the responsibility of shaping public opinion it should have even more checks to it.
    Moreover, the commercialization of media has become a problem not just for Pakistan, but also for other, developed countries. As soon as the checks on U.S media by the government were removed in the late 90s, their media became commercialized and yellow journalism paved its way.
    Thus, a thorough check should be ensured on our media, and media ethics should be given consideration.


  • Sep 24, 2011 - 7:59PM

    A couple of weeks back I attended a program where the TV anchor, in response to a question asked from the audience, said that “Media azad nahi, bai-lagaam hogaya hai”.
    And I agree with him on that.


  • Vigilant
    Sep 24, 2011 - 9:29PM

    A proper journalism ethic code & it’s check & balance system must be developed and enforced through journalist unions & other fuctional bodies. First point of code should be removal of “PRESS” plates from vehicles of journalists. Lip service not going to work.


  • Vigilant
    Sep 24, 2011 - 9:30PM

    A proper journalism ethic code & it’s check & balance system must be developed and enforced through journalist unions & other fuctional bodies. First point of code should be removal of “PRESS” plates from vehicles of journalists. Lip service not going to work.Recommend

  • Alami Musafir
    Sep 24, 2011 - 11:40PM

    In my opinion, journalists should be governed by truth rather than ethics. Ethics implies the use of peer pressure to suppress truth. The same applies to the threat of litigation to shut journalists up.

    Journalists should also be free to express their opinions, but must clearly state that these are opinions (as I have done above) rather than proven facts. The best safeguard of a fair society (not a so-called democratic society, which is in fact run by politicians serving a hidden elite, but a fair society), is a press which is unafraid to express the truth, its opinion, and to question official policies. If these freedoms were granted to the press then there would be neither the need nor the time to hunt for sensationalist stories.


  • Sal76
    Sep 25, 2011 - 3:26PM

    I have always believed that ethics in any profession are basically the same principals of honesty, morality and truthfulness that are acknowledged by all mankind as pillars of an ideal society. They are the basic sense of justice, justice for all. Most important of all they are about respect to yourself and to others. Ethics cannot be taught or given out as a handbook.These are ingrained in our minds as a child. The media has to walk on a very tight line between truth and the freedom of person. I agree that at times they may be faced to decide between the two but then it should by the sense of righteousness. They must differentiate between truth for the sake of truth and sensationalism..Having said all that I believe that Pakistani media had been locked up for decades and now that they have got breath of free air, they are doing a good job. Yes their is sensationalism and all but this conference shows that the media people know their responsibilities and have to check themselves. This, I think is what matter most accountability to ones own self.


  • Observer
    Sep 26, 2011 - 1:40AM

    This article tries to cite people who belong to irrelevant newspapers. what does a business editor know about news. and online agency – never heard of that… The one from UK is talking like she is teaching some young class of students. why would anyone give importance to such nobodys of media. didnt the reporter have better things to work on that this holier-than-thou story!


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