Tackling fake news and threats to journalists

Zarrar Khuhro, Asma Shirazi and Mazhar Abbas on challenges facing media

YUSRA SALIM February 20, 2023
From left to right: Jouranlists Zarrar Khuhro, Mazhar Abbas and Asma Shirazi in conversation with moderator Wajahat Saeed Khan on day 2 of the Karachi Literature Festival on Saturday. Photo: Media handout


KARACHI. Journalism entails a certain level of risk and requires the courage to speak truth to power, veteran journalist Mazhar Abbas said during a discuss on the Pakistan’s media landscape on day 2 of the Karachi Literature Festival on Saturday.

“If a journalist doesn’t take risks, then they are not a journalist,” said Abbas who has been in the profession since the eighties.

He was part of a panel with the topic “Invasive media and the right to privacy”. Others on the panel included reputed talk show hosts, Asma Shirazi and Zarrar Khuhro, with the session moderated by Wajahat Saeed Khan.

The session touched upon several aspects of journalism including what dominates the headlines.

Khuhro acknowledged that political coverage was voluminous while pointing out that it resulted in exclusion of key stories and development. He pointed out a recent report that pointed out how 40% of the oil-based paint products available in the market had hazardously high level of lead.

The moderator asked Shirazi about her journey in the field of journalism and how being a woman shaped her experience.

She said that the harassment had increased over the years, which now included threatening phone calls and shadowing of vehicles. “There have character assassination drives on social media,” she said. The challenges facing women journalists increase manifold because of the nature and vulgarity of the threats and the impact they have on one’s mental well-being, she continued.

Taking it back another couple of decades, Abbas said that during the rule of General Zia ul Haq, the information department would review newspapers before clearing them for publication. “Entire news pieces would be removed and there would be times when half the page would be blank.”

He said a media complaints commission was the need of the hour and the country needed better defamation laws. The panelists cited the case of a youth who had been sentenced to five years for making distasteful remarks about a national tragedy.

Fake news

The discussion then circled around fake news and how could one discern between what was real and was propaganda. The panelists agreed that it was impossible to ascertain the veracity of fake news considering the high volumes of such “WhatsApp” forwards that were often peddled by digital platforms. “One should use their common sense and read a couple of articles to check and verify instead of taking the news on face value,” was Khuhro’s suggestion.

The panalists emphasized the importance of establishing the legitimacy and purpose behind any news, while citing the example of the recent audio and video leaks that are dominating the news. The leaks are coming in on quotidian basis and everyone has an opinion on it, but has anyone tried to find out the source of the clip and whether it is authentic,” asked Abbas.

Pakistan’s monsoon floods ‘human induced’

Floods in Pakistan are not natural disasters but human-induced because we as a country have failed to develop contingencies to mitigate the threat. This was the crux of a discussion titled ‘Vulnerability and resilience: Climate and communities’ held on the second day of the 14th edition of the Karachi Literature Festival in Karachi.

The panel started off with the release of the report on the recent floods titled, ‘A clarion call for climate justice-the human rights cost of the 2022 floods’ by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The panel for the talk included environmentalist Afia Salam, HRCP’s Zohra Yusuf, and activist Bilal Zahoor with journalist Farah Zia as moderator.

Zia talked about marginalized groups who have been impacted the most in the recent floods that submerged a third of the country.

Salam who has been working on climate and environment for several years and was have part of the HRCP report, carried the discussion forward on how climate-related disasters had affected the rights of people who were already vulnerable.

“There is no difference between the 2010 and 2022 floods because the situation has not changed much,” she said. “The disaster cannot be blamed on nature. It took place because waterways have been blocked.”

Salam said that while the country received far higher rainfall than usual, but it was disruptions in the water’s natural course that resulted in the flooding.

“Many parts of southern Punjab, Baluchistan, and in Sindh that were affected by floods had not experienced rain for several years,” she said, adding it resulted in complacency and neglect.

She said the meteorological department had predicted excessive rains but the relevant departments failed to pay heed to their warnings. “It is high time we understand that we need to work on preventing disasters and prepare for it instead of just focusing on post-disaster management.”

Yusuf, the former chairperson of the HRCP, said that the floods made it clear how human rights were key considerations in the wake of such disasters. It disproportionately affects the marginalized, she said, while pointing out that the number of those affected might be higher than the 33 million being reported.

Zahoor said that local agents of capitalism shared the blame for the disaster. He singled out real estate developers and housing societies for changing the topology, resulting in disaster.

“Such projects impacting ecology, including shrinking of agriculture and drying of rivers,” he said.


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