Rather than playing its role as a disinterested purveyor of news, the Pakistani media has always seemed to have craved becoming a political actor itself. From magnates who seek power through media ownership to talk show hosts who like nothing better than igniting controversy, our media stars have often abdicated their responsibilities in a quest for glory-hunting. Now, some prominent journalists have approached the Supreme Court to form an accountability commission that would draw up a code of conduct for the industry and also investigate revenue streams of news channels and advertising agencies, while also keeping an eye out for talk show hosts who may be on the payroll of various state actors. The petitioners have the right idea even if some may find their way of going about it to be flawed.
The media, for all its problems, is still the best defence against unchecked government power. Allowing any government body to investigate the media may end up inviting the government to launch a witch-hunt. It would, perhaps, be better if media organisations started policing themselves. The first thing they must do is to make their financial dealings completely transparent and regularly release financial reports that lead to increased accountability.
Media organisations also need to cooperate in instituting an industry-wide code of conduct. This will require good intentions as channels may be tempted to stray from rules if it gives them a momentary advantage. The media group that owns this newspaper should, perhaps, take the lead in instituting a code of conduct for itself that would regulate its programming as well as financial dealings. The incentive that should keep everyone in check is the possibility that if the industry does not police itself, the government may do it for them in a manner that may not be as fair. A media that is seen as tainted and susceptible to undue outside influence will be trusted by no one and will fail in its mission.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2012.