Media misdemeanors

We are taught in journalism that we are bystanders not participants

Kamal Siddiqi July 31, 2017
The writer is the former editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets as @tribunian

The unseating of prime minister Nawaz Sharif has its origins in the work of the media. It was the work of a dedicated group of journalists that exposed the financial transactions and wealth of a number of leaders, including that of the Sharif family, which led in this instance to the departure of Mian Nawaz Sharif. This report was the basis for the creation of the JIT which in turn led to the Supreme Court decision. How times have changed.

In the past, media reports (many of which seemed questionable) were used to dismiss governments. This happened in the governments of both Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif. This time round, the media reports were not questionable. In fact, it was the excellent work that was done which ensured there were no holes through which the accused could escape.

As journalists, we teach new entrants as well as students of journalism about the Watergate Scandal in which the most powerful man in the world had to resign as a result of investigative journalism conducted by a crack investigative team of the Washington Post. I am happy to now say that we don’t have to rely on Watergate as an example (most journalism students today I am sure would not know who Nixon was) but that we have our own example in the form of the Panama Papers and how our prime minister was unseated.

Having said that, one has to look at the role of the media in Pakistan and the way it functions. There is much that is done right but much more, unfortunately, that is done wrong. Aside from safety, one of the biggest challenges Pakistan’s media faces is that of ethics.

Much of the coverage of the Panama Papers has been done correctly. This is because the judiciary is very clear on ensuring that it is not misreported and its proceedings are accurately chronicled. Possibly one of the most careful reporters in the field are court reporters. One error and they can be hauled up before a judge to give an explanation. I wish this were true in other fields as well.

And yet the media could not help itself when it came to reporting from outside the courtroom. The manner in which it not only reported speculations and rumours but also misquoted and misreported on important parts of the case leaves a lot to be desired.

Much of the reporting done was, of course, against the PM. But the manner in which it was done – from speculation to what the strategy the ruling party could take, to what the party members said in court to the final selection of the next PM left many wondering what the role of the media really is.

We are taught in journalism that we are bystanders not participants. But in the present political scenario we seem to be everything but bystanders. We are in the thick of things – giving opinions and issuing edicts. More to blame is the broadcast media – which also commands the lion’s share of audience. There were talk shows in which participants even suggested going against the judiciary’s verdict! What more can one want?

It is time for the Pakistani media to examine closely its role in such situations. We are heading towards a general election in the coming year and we need to set up some code of ethics that can be enforced by all concerned. Our ratings system encourages the broadcast media to come up with antics and incidents to make them the talk of the town. This has to
be discouraged.

There is of course the debate as to who will try and tame the media. Will it be the government, media houses themselves or journalist bodies like unions and press clubs? So far there has been no agreement on this. As a result, the media remains out of control. Reporting on everything and giving its own spin to that.

Political reporters may need to be as disciplined as court reporters. We cannot allow vested interests to dictate the agenda. Much of what is being misreported comes as a result of certain powers trying to manage the media. The rest comes from the lack of experience and competence on part of the reporters themselves.

Both ethics and safety can be kept in mind when we try and put together some code of ethics for political reporting. Unless this is not done, there will be irresponsible and dangerous reporting by some. This needs to stop.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2017.

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cautous | 6 years ago | Reply Pakistan's limited number of investigative reporters tend to be harassed, kidnapped, killed etc. - haven't read a substantive controversial article which defies the Establishment in a very long time.
Ikramhoti | 6 years ago | Reply GREAT PIECE SIDDIQUI SB. WHERE ARE U THESE DAYS?
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