Bell the cat

This week we suffered the spectacle of seeing an FC guard slapping a reporter as she accosted him at a NADRA office

Kamal Siddiqi October 23, 2016
The writer is the former editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets as @tribunian

This week we suffered the spectacle of seeing a guard belonging to the Frontier Constabulary slapping a reporter as she accosted him at a NADRA office in Karachi.

A clip of the incident went viral and was one of the most shared videos on the Internet in Pakistan, save possibly the Chaiwala photo which also took social media by storm in the same week.

We are now told that all the parties in the incident - the reporter in question, her media organisation, the management of NADRA, the Frontier Constabulary and the interior ministry, have withdrawn the various FIRs that were filed against each other.

After the incident, a case was registered against the Frontier Constabulary (FC) official. In response, both NADRA and the Frontier Constabulary also filed FIRs against the reporter and her news organisation. But then some common sense prevailed. Or, was it bullying by the media? Taking “notice of the incident”, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar ordered an inquiry and stated that no misbehaviour against the media could be tolerated.

The incident has been widely discussed in media circles. Most media persons agree that this was not an issue of media freedom despite the fact that there are some who insist that this is the case. And yet the fact that a guard could slap a woman and also fire shots in the air when challenged cannot be taken lying down.  The guard has to be punished or at least reprimanded. He put lives at risk in a place where he was supposed to provide security. The reaction by the media to take the matter to the interior minister is quite justified.

The action of the guard has to be condemned. But what about the reporter? Where did she go wrong? To start with, her decision to take a camera into the NADRA office was acceptable. The NADRA office is a public space and to enter and conduct a programme can be considered kosher especially where the programme was highlighting the problems faced by people visiting the place to have their cards made or their issues addressed. Although this kind of reporting has its detractors, too.

But the manner in which the reporter confronted the guard leaves a lot to be desired. Journalists forget that they are supposed to be observers and not participants when doing their jobs.

In the past we have seen TV personalities entering police station lock-ups, public parks or even Chinese health centres and confronting people that they believe are guilty of one crime or another. It is one thing to ask questions, another to confront and accuse people of crimes for which they have not been convicted as yet. Journalists are not inquisitors. Also journalists cannot be the story. We have to report from the sidelines.  But the temptation to be in the centre of the action is too hard to resist. And we cannot pass judgment. But we do that all the time.

In the NADRA office incident, the reporter in question should not have confronted the guard in the manner she did. And to accuse him of being part of the corruption taking place at the office and then proceed to question his honour by asking him about the womenfolk in his own family was exactly the way not to report a story. A journalist needs to keep some space between themselves and the person they are interviewing.

Clearly our journalists need training on how to conduct themselves in public. The manner in which some have behaved in the past make them unpopular amongst many Pakistanis.

All the good work many of them do by exposing corruption and fighting for the right causes is set aside because of the unprofessionalism of a few.

And yet it is this very unprofessional behaviour that brings in the ratings. In this incident, an unknown reporter from a relatively lesser known channel has made both herself and her news organisation famous. In the past too, we have seen media personalities indulging in all sorts of questionable behaviour only to get ratings.

In comparison to most developing countries, our media is relatively
free. But with this freedom should come responsibility. Clearly this is an area where much more needs to be done.  The question is – who will bell the cat?

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2016.

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F Khan | 4 years ago | Reply Responsibility and journalism.No way, not in Pakistan.Not in 200 years.We only have masala journalism.
Amir | 4 years ago | Reply What we see in Pakistan is yellow journalism and sensationalizing fact less un-researched stories. That is what sells and gets you rating, thus money from ad agencies. News channels after channels are running after issues, projecting it, and than after mileage has been delivered, forget follow ups. The mindset of pakistan that we do not remember what the person has done in the past. Yes Media has been instrumental in bringing some check and balance in our corrupt society, yet it is not that powerful enough to make a change in that culture as most channels are seen as linked with various political parties and projects their interests. What the lady reporter did at NADRA is misbehaving. Our guards unfortunately are not trained to handle difficult people or situations, and are only trained to act aggressively. If they don't, they are bound to loose their jobs. Reporter should have asked these questions to the NADRA Manager hiding inside the office, instead of harassing anyone there to manage crowd control.
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