The day Bhoja Air’s plane crashed, so did common sense. Amazingly, the petulance of many people that was evident on the social media, revolved around the television coverage of the debacle, and not the tragedy itself. Outrage and disbelief over the fact that such a crash could happen so soon after the Airblue tragedy, had caused the deaths of so many innocent lives and had happened so close to a residential area, was lost somewhere. The lugubrious environment was perforated by the scathing criticism of the media. The gist of the debate was that the media displayed insensitivity by showing the charred remains of the victims’ bodies and thrust microphones into the faces of their grieving family members. At times, it felt as if some friends were using the tragic incident to advocate the cause of increased media control, if not outright censorship.
Since then, I have constantly kept an eye out for the proverbial smoking gun: footage that can substantiate the claims made against the media, particularly the former claim regarding the showing of the remains of the victims’ bodies. I have not come across any such footage. On the off chance that something might have slipped my attention, I would remind the readers that in the past I have been overtly critical of the unprofessionalism manifested by the media from time to time. Nor do I believe that this occupation is beyond accountability. But let us see if the criticism directed at the media actually holds water.
Frankly, this sudden weariness that people have displayed towards the media is beyond me. People are miffed at the media for different reasons. Some are genuinely dismayed at our failures and bad practices, which are exceptions that do not make a rule. Others have their own reasons. Deep state, for instance, is usually miffed because journalists often refuse to use words like ‘national interest’ to protect the interests of a few. Governments have been critical of the media because it often exposes their corruption and ineptness. The obscurantist elements are often ready to excommunicate us because we do not accept their perversion of faith. And the list goes on.
For some reason, people forget their own responsibility and that of the state. For the media, a viewer plays the role of a voter. You can make or break me by the push of a button, make us all vanish at will. That is, if you are not afraid of democracy. The state that has suddenly woken up to show concern for developing a code of ethics for the media, turned a blind eye when TV channels were operating without elaborate organograms, professional editors or equitable salaries for their employees. The competition commission that the media fought so hard for went into deep slumber when the rating system for TV channels became a virtual monopoly causing the infant deaths of two brilliant English news channels and the abortion of a third.
I ask you to consider what you ask media personnel to do every day: go out and risk your lives for us, again and again, and yet again. Meanwhile, if you die in the process, we won’t shed even a tear for you, but if you make an honest mistake, we will not spare you. Does the public honestly have any idea how many of our colleagues die in poverty and squalor, jobless or underemployed? Thank you for pointing out our mistakes, we will do away with them, but will our friends ever return?
Those who call today’s media lopsided, or even a threat to democracy, should remember that media is not just a group of privileged talk show hosts. Media personnel, including the groups you criticise, have made sacrifices for democracy. A big ‘yes’ to a voluntary code of ethics and development of best practices, including having media ombudsmen, but an equally big ‘no’ to censorship and undue cynicism.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2012.
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