Political talk shows

There are social and political consequences that an unprofessional and unmanaged media can produce in society

Rasul Bakhsh Rais January 31, 2018
The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS, Lahore. His recent book is Imagining Pakistan: Modernism, State and the Politics of Islamic Revival (Lexington Books, 2017)

Like many Pakistanis, I have developed a talk-show habit, watching what is being said and debate about the current issues each evening. I am an information and news junkie. I am sure many of you don’t miss one or other programme in the evening to refresh yourself, or just to see who is taking what position on controversial issues of the day. Electronic media in Pakistan has not only been freed from state regulation but has proliferated and emerged powerful, exercising a big influence on this society. That part is good for this society, democracy and for developing a culture of free debate and discussion in society. In this respect, we Pakistanis can take pride on being one of the freest societies in terms of freedom of expression among the developing world, certainly on the top among the 58 states with Muslim majority populations.

However, there is a downside to the expansion of the electronic media and its role in Pakistani society. It is being captured by those who, in other parts of the world, might not be allowed even access to a news room. In many ways, the success and power of the media has brought in new media houses, owners, anchors and managers with no background in journalism, media or anything even remotely resembling a television network. Each of the new media house has a story behind it. But then, why even professionally trained and experienced journalists would like to dig the stories behind stories of who is who of the electronic media world. Investigative journalism is a weaker part of the profession for obvious reasons of big personal risks and a general apathy towards powerful new ‘elites’ that have become fabulously rich by selling education, fake degrees or running industries. In many cases, a channel or channels have become a political means of protection, intimidation and influence peddling to cover up the questionable wealth of owners. There are also other motives, agendas and powerful political interests behind some media houses.

I believe in free media and freedom of expression. But like many of you, I am disappointed by the quality of anchor persons, their training, learning and even basic understanding of the complex political world shaped by history, culture, social forces and economic transitions. It is not necessary to be a ‘learned’ person to occupy the centre chair in a show, but at least the job requires pursuit of journalism as a profession, ethics, and a sense of responsibility. Frankly speaking, most of the anchors don’t sound like journalists; they come from other professions, and appear to be hired-guns for pushing the agenda of certain questionable businesses and political barons. Among such a crowd there is a professional minority engaged in meaningful and responsible conversation, but their voices and shows have been drowned by the shouting, fighting and uncouth men and women from other professions in the garb of journalists.

There are social and political consequences that an unprofessional and unmanaged media can produce in society. One can easily notice some of the troubling signs and effects. These are negativity about the country and society at large. We see hatred, intolerance of opposite political views, shameless presentation of fake news as ‘facts’, slander, personal attacks and discrediting of every institution of the state and society.

In fact, the image problem of Pakistan abroad is a reflection of negativism in the media at home. This has overshadowed the better, brighter and good part of Pakistan. While we may wait for genuine maturing of media, at least the fake news masters can be taken to task by the law and the courts.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2018.

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