Our collective perception is a function of electronic and social media. Our viewpoints are formed on the basis of coverage of violent incidents, their projection and presentation on a daily basis. The influence of such telecasts on the viewers vary over a wide spectrum depending on their education level, nature of understanding, duration of violence transmission and its frequency of repetition. Strengthening the rule of law and establishing the writ of the state cannot be accomplished if the media keeps televising violence regularly with negative connotations. It also promotes extremist tendencies and goads innocent minds towards violence and terror. Since the most important thing in establishing security within a region relies on developing a sense of safety among the people, therefore violence or terror should be televised in a manner that explores the positive aspect of the incident too.
The recent attack on the Islamabad High Court (IHC) by members of the lawyer community was telecasted in a way which sent a negative message to ordinary people. It indicates that assaulting the office of the IHC Chief Justice is a possibility for anyone. The ransacked offices point towards three important aspects of the rule of law and its social perception in the country. First, it shows that one can go to any extent including raiding the office of the head of a constitutional entity. This ossifies the idea that such action is within the bounds of an individual, a group, pro-state actors or a mob in the country. Second, it indicates the fragility of the local security apparatus to tackle the situation in a timely and effective manner. The police’s response seems to be tampered by circumspection and tactfulness as they foresee an awkward situation for themselves in case they participate with alacrity without institutional support. Third, it establishes a strong statement that an illegal act cannot be undone by a legal procedure as the accused start raising their voices against the action with wrong allusions and references.
Interestingly, this is not the first incident of its kind as the electronic and social media have been relaying videos which dampen spirits and pollute people’s minds. This does not mean that we should restrict media coverage of an incident, however a positive angle of violence may be kept in mind during transmission. For example, the assault on the IHC CJ office should have been covered with handcuffed assailants in police custody, which would uphold the perception of the rule of law. Similarly, instead of capturing blown up pieces of cars or human remains in a terrorist incident, the media should depict effectiveness of local security in curtailing and reducing the intensity and impact of terrorism. Moreover, officials of LEAs who come on media in describing the incident should do so with a positive depiction of the local security apparatus. In many terror incidents, the media’s display of LEAs is marked by uncertainty and ambiguity, thus strengthening a sense of fear and insecurity among people.
We live in an integrated digital environment where the concept of privacy has slowly shifted from the private to the public domain. Though every violent incident cannot be censored, these events can be televised in a constructive manner. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has issued comprehensive guidelines which encompass all aspects of televising a terror or violent incident. It also emphasises on the training of anchors and media staff for sensitisation. Every citizen has a right to know what is happening in the country but social and electronic media have the monopoly of control over people’s perception in a way which may produce positivity or negativity in the hearts and minds of people. Therefore, the strength of positive perception is the basis of security, cohesion and unity of a country.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2021.
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