Who’s going to watch the watchdog?

Published: July 29, 2010
The writer is a sub-editor at The Express Tribune

The writer is a sub-editor at The Express Tribune saleha.riaz@tribune.com.pk

All blog posts, comments and forums following the Airblue tragedy seemed to agree on one thing. The Pakistani public (at least those with internet access) had given its verdict.  Our electronic media is in dire need of a crash course in ethical reporting. One commentator said: “It is unethical of reporters to harass and interview families of the victims of the crash.  Talk about disrespect.  Why would anyone want their immediate period of mourning to be shown live on national TV?”

The coverage varied from the pseudo-creative (Geo’s inaccurate and pointless animation of a plane crashing into hills), and the insensitive (describing dead bodies in unnecessary detail) to the bizarre (claiming the plane was shot down). With so many TV channels reporting round the clock, it is understandable that they need to keep viewers updated with every piece of information they can muster.

Or is it?

The print media, without gory footage and descriptions of the dead, has managed to cover the crash with a lot more finesse — using words, analysis and a few photographs. Forget an actual course in ethics. What about common sense? What goes on in the minds of the reporters when they are running after mourners for quotes? Does no one stop and think: what is the purpose of this coverage? Are we really informing the audience by asking such questions? How would we feel if we were in the victims’ shoes? Informative coverage should have focused on, rather than harassing relatives of victims, aspects of the tragedy such as the fact that the crash was in a part of the hills where access was difficult but that this did not deter locals from nearby villages to help.

The government and the owners and managers of media groups (including the one this newspaper belongs to) need to come up with a policy on media ethics. Attempts to do so are usually taken by the media as a curb on its freedom. But would it rather have complete freedom to do whatever it wants to the point that the government ends up thinking that such freedom is too much and then the plug is pulled — as Musharraf did when he was power, or would it rather adhere to some kind of standard? The Five Rupees blog asks a question that needs to be answered in light of the crash: do we “prefer a free and irresponsible media over a sedate but muzzled media?” If it is the media that has gotten us used to sensationalist journalism, the media alone can rectify this. But it has to be a unified decision, just one or two channels changing their ways won’t help.

I saw on a Saudi channel a programme called “No comment”. It showed footage of events with no sound, just a one line description of what was happening. No reporters screaming, running around, no TV anchors analysing things to death. It felt good. Sometimes we just need to know when to shut up.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Shahid Saeed
    Jul 30, 2010 - 6:29AM

    Why should the government do everything? Why should the state enforce media ethics?

    Isn’t the society capable of dictating the ethics of the coverage that it sees? Aren’t the people just customers in the media market who’ll be fed what they want by the media?

    The media should be self regulatory. The regulations in place are violated day in, day out (the maximum allowed advertisement break is three minutes long with a minimum of fifteen minutes b/w successive breaks, only 12 minutes of ads per hour and we know that this extends to 20-25 mins on an average).

    The media must learn not to fleece the customer by over-profiting and over-sensationalizing itself.Recommend

  • binwakeel
    Jul 30, 2010 - 7:46AM

    Well-reasoned and thought-provoking piece. Makes good reading; providing food for thought. Must read for those who matter.Recommend

  • Saad Munir
    Jul 30, 2010 - 8:46AM

    True Media , not a FREE MEDIA This is what i am shouting every where now a days, to aware people, that Truth brings freedom. Free Media is just advantage of the sensationalism. The way they tells the death toll and new false news of survivors and many viewers calls their friends and effected relatives to watch TV, and then the keep on going animation, body descriptions and then another news that no survivors.. Its a real time for Media to shut up now. Thanks for the identifying and sharing this with out thoughts. appreciateRecommend

  • A Naheed
    Jul 30, 2010 - 11:12AM

    “Sometimes we just need to know when to shut up”
    This is what Islam teaches us.
    Allah says: “O you who believe! Fear Allah and speak a word that is right. He will set right for you your deeds and forgive you your sins. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great achievement.” [ Sûrah al-Ahzâb : 70-71]

    Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak a good word or remain silent.
    The Prophet (peace be upon him) took hold of his tongue and said: “Restrain yourself from this.”
    “Does anything topple people headlong into the Hellfire save the harvests of their tongues?” [ Sunan al-Tirmidhî and Sunan Ibn Mâjah ]

  • SN
    Jul 30, 2010 - 11:55AM

    A Naheed you just missed all the main part of this article and focusing on one line .. please grow up and try to acknowledge what she is trying to say and this is the time that Media should realize their responsibility.Recommend

  • Manzoor Ali
    Jul 30, 2010 - 12:32PM

    You rightly pointed out the problem with broadcast media of Pakistan.I think the broadcast media regulator(PEMRA) should enforce the rules and regulations in letter and spirit.Recommend

  • Zehra Abid
    Jul 30, 2010 - 12:43PM

    Excellent piece Recommend

  • A Naheed
    Jul 30, 2010 - 1:40PM

    Dear SN, here being sensitive to others feeling is the core of the article not responsibility.
    What you ‘SAY’ in print media is what you ‘SHOW’ with your camera.
    So ‘SHUT UP’ means for a camera to shut IT, ‘QUIT’ rolling, its tongue.
    Hence the verse from the Qur’an and Ahadith! Recommend

  • SN
    Jul 30, 2010 - 2:42PM

    Dear Naheed

    the exact words are ” Sometimes we just need to know when to shut up. ”
    and there is a clear explanation of WHEN …..and please look at the good side of this article don’t base your comments on one word.Recommend

  • Anam Aftab
    Jul 30, 2010 - 3:46PM

    Fab! Recommend

  • Zahid Ali
    Jul 30, 2010 - 4:05PM

    you rightly pointed out the prob of with broadcast media regarding ethical codes. Disregarding whether media ethics is subjective or not, the case against the Pakistani media is their lack of empathy towards its critics. At one end they would construe government regulations as a clamp on free expression, but at the other end there are no visible and concrete signs of self regulation. There is hardly a media organization which has an ‘ethics and compliance department’; a department which is independent of, and has the right to supersede over-eager editors trying their best to sell their news; a department which must be consulted by reporters and editors in case of ethical dilemmas, without any regard to timeliness of the scoop.Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi
    Jul 30, 2010 - 8:39PM

    Love the apt title. Good article Saleha. Recommend

  • Jul 30, 2010 - 10:45PM

    VERY well-written. ‘ Sometimes we just need to know when to shut up. ‘
    ‘nuf said.Recommend

  • Jul 30, 2010 - 10:47PM

    Who’s gonna watch the ‘watchdog?’
    Self-censorship seems the best way to go about it.Recommend

  • youknowwho
    Jul 31, 2010 - 1:14PM

    They are not mediamen, but actually conmen!Recommend

  • Lahraib Raju
    Jul 31, 2010 - 3:50PM

    Awesome Piece, will look out for more pieces from you Lady!Recommend

  • Concerned
    Aug 1, 2010 - 1:16AM

    Watchdog is without watch!Recommend

  • shaheen
    Aug 1, 2010 - 12:14PM

    Puffed faces, hired dresses, borrowed words, empty minds, loud mouths.Recommend

  • Ammaad
    Aug 1, 2010 - 12:27PM

    Worst thing is that the same cruel faces are still shrieking at the idiot box shamelessly. Disgraceful, disgusting.Recommend

  • Aug 1, 2010 - 11:45PM

    I’d just like to respond to the point Shahid Saeed has made about the media being self-regulatory; leaving them to their own devices, i.e. giving them the power to decide what is right and wrong vis-a-vis regulations is giving them the exact power you’re accusing them of abusing (not following advertisement quotas, flagrantly ignoring broadcast rules, etc.) so, while I’m not advocating a top-down imposition of rules and regulations, you WILL need the government to step in and control matters, at least insofar as the principle of the matter is concerned. Semi-devolved regulation, in my humble opinion, would be a pretty good starting point, which is quite the point that Saleha made when stating that the media groups have to sit down amongst themselves WITH active participation by the government, with a sincere target in mind regarding ethics.

    And, as somewhat of a non-sequitur…In Soviet Russia, Watchdog is going to watch the Who?Recommend

  • Funny
    Aug 2, 2010 - 12:15PM

    So you think all the other jobs done by the Government are well-regulated? Ha Ha Ha… I thought only I am funny!Recommend

  • talha
    Aug 2, 2010 - 12:45PM

    I don’t know how you come to know such things while sitting in the media. I salute you for writing courageously and do hope that someone in the media might change their mind set. We are basically senseless people and just want to sell things without any rules and regulations.

    I want to ask few questions
    1- How does u obstruct the favoritism of a particular channel?
    2- Why do we have the competition on the part of death, misery, harassment, personality clash and depression?
    3- Why we did not care about others and give respect to the privacy of individual. Recommend

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