Despite the proliferation of media outlets, journalism in Pakistan is in a constant state of degeneration – a fact which is often whitewashed by offering the rise of ‘corporate culture’ as an excuse.
Journalist Mazhar Abbas attempted to persuade the stakeholders to take notice of the issue as he spoke at the launch of Dr Riaz Shaikh’s book, titled “Strangling Liberty: Media in Distress in Pakistan”, at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday. The event was presided over by journalist and social activist IA Rehman.
The author is a social sciences dean at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology. Abbas said that media organisations are funded and facilitated by political parties and drug and land mafias. “People against whom journalists used the power of their pen are now the ones offering job opportunities,” he said. “So what if they are tax evaders, they remain our owners and their money can always help change the orientation of a journalist.”
He added that many people are coming to the front and identifying themselves as journalists but those who actually understand the essence of journalism are very few.
In these circumstances, it was not difficult to understand how public opinion is being manipulated by the media, said Abbas. “This has been happening for decades and for the same reason, journalists tend to cross the red line and get pulled into the corridors of power,” he said. “We portrayed Bengalis as traitors and the public followed suit. The same was the case with the notion of backwardness attached with Sindhis. Once again, we are on the mission of declaring the Baloch as traitors.”
The underlying reason for this degeneration, he explained, is the attitude of newspaper editors and TV news directors, who serve as captains for their respective teams of journalists but do not shy away from accepting benefits from the government. “How can one expect them to lead their teams in reporting and struggling for the truth?”
He pointed out that the media had also played a significant role in creating a distance between the Urdu and Sindhi speaking population. “We do not know if the daily newspaper that carried a headline: Urdu ka Janaza hai zara dhoom se nikle [Let the funeral of Urdu be carried out fervidly] accepts responsibility for the subsequent ethnic riots,” he said. “Despite knowing how easily the media can influence minds, these organisations take no responsibility.”
Rehman declared that 1970s was the “golden era of journalism” when journalists remained true to their profession and rendered sacrifices in their line of work. “The main instrument of media suppression in the past was in the form of press advice, but now state and non-state actors employ more complicated methods to spread disinformation,” he alleged. “It is difficult to verify the truth in an age when reporters are being bought and threatened.”
Rehman added that dictators in the past used to take over newspapers to make their opponents fall in line, but today when governments seem to have no real control over media, non-state actors and corporate sector make journalists conform to their stance.
Veteran journalists and academicians – Shahida Qazi, Waheed Bashir, Dr Tauseef Ahmed – also spoke on this occasion.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2013.