Little was known about Talat Hussain’s mission till all the TV channels exploded with news that he and his producer were aboard the Freedom Flotilla heading to Gaza in an attempt to break through the coastal city’s blockade by the Israeli navy. We were told that the convoy came under siege by the Israeli army whilst it was in international waters and that around 20 people had been killed.
This was the information — correct, concise, objective and unexaggerated. A fine example of how efficiently news can be carried across in today’s age. But what followed till the time that we heard that Talat and his crew were not killed by Israeli firing was nothing less than tabloid journalism.
All our prominent and influential anchors and analysts were there on TV offering nothing but rants. Like a huddle of women gathered at the village square, they wailed and despaired at how the government had not been able to identify the whereabouts of three – just three – Pakistanis. The suggestion, no, the allegation was that the government did not care, it was making no efforts in engaging diplomatic channels to obtain information on its missing nationals, that everyone in the government – top-down, horizontal and vertical – was responsible for the fact that Talat Hussain’s whereabouts were unknown. One talk show host suggested with a straight face: “Why doesn’t our president pick up the phone and call the Israeli government and demand that he be told where our men are!” Did it not occur to this fairly experienced journalist that we maintain no diplomatic relations with Israel and Israel is not exactly going to dish out such information over the phone. Perhaps one analyst did think of this, hence he suggested that our president should ask Barack Obama to use his good offices to get the Pakistanis to safety!
Irrelevant to these analysts was that there was not a single credible source in a position to verify the fate of those aboard the flotilla. International news channels were unable to tell the nationalities of people who had been killed though some reports suggested that many were Turks. The special transmission continued all day, devoid of sound reasoning. Contradictory to the baseless and misguided ‘analysis’, news was also being telecast of our president, prime minister, foreign minister, information minister and interior minister being fully engaged on the matter and actively pursuing various diplomatic options. At no point did the government seem detached, aloof or unaware of its responsibility and eventually succeeded in securing the safe release of its nationals. I know it’s convenient to poke fun at the government, it always sells. But it also damages the credibility of those who pitch themselves as journalists of standing. Being melodramatic, sensational and misleading is exciting, but only in the short run. Eventually people get bored of that and look for more substance.
The whole focus of the media remained on government bashing and the message behind this group’s mission was lost to sub-standard journalism. One wishes more was said about the noble cause for which so many people risked their lives, how Talat and his team got involved, what motivated them, what they wished to achieve.
In short, our media needs to demonstrate mature, reliable and ethically sound journalism. It needs to educate its viewers rather than incite them.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2010.