The recent Guwahati incident in India where a teenage girl was attacked and molested by a group of men while the television crew preferred filming the incident rather than attempting an intervention to save the girl brings out complex questions of media ethics. The standard reference is Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the dying child in Sudan and his subsequent suicide. It also summons to mind the Fleet Street story where reporters at foreign desks on reaching scenes of tragedy would ask, “anyone here been raped and speaks English?” It is always a good time to talk about media ethics and responsibility in Pakistan and maybe it is additionally relevant due to the fact that the holy month of Ramazan is here.
The first blessing arrived before the month itself, namely the cringe-inducing figure of Aamir Liaquat Hussain smugly laughing at us. I do not particularly dislike Aamir Liaquat for the leaked video of him cracking vulgar (though not funny) jokes etc, although that does make him a hypocrite. However, my fervent dislike is for the hate-mongering, which in the past has included direct incitement to murder and general idiocy. Apparently, the fake doctor has enough of a following and can bring in enough money for the concerned television channel to be unconcerned enough to not only re-hire him, but also to celebrate his return unashamedly with a broken horseshoe looking character singing and dancing. After Maya Khan and Meher Bukhari, we should know better, yet it is nauseating each time. Meher Bukhari is a representative example; she moved up the ladder after incitement to Salmaan Taseer’s murder and from the looks of things is sufficiently indispensable not to be bothered by minor breaches of ethics in the Malik Riaz interview; although to continue the high moralising immediately after the leaked interview video without embarrassment does require a certain malicious fortitude. Let us not pretend that the media is not in the business of making money or that there is something wrong in that. However after a certain point it insults our intelligence, I am sure money can be made by less repulsive choices.
We now have a month of discovering that everyone from television anchors, models to cricketers and politicians is a closet religious scholar and a mystic. Every anchorperson has been previously preoccupied with being experts in constitutional jurisprudence. For the next month, every programme on every channel for a significant portion of the day would be a plagiarism of one another with only the faces changed — so much for freedom of choice and dozens of television channels, you are out of luck if high cholesterol cookery recipes do not catch your fancy.
It is worth pondering over the choices generally available in evening chat shows. It seems that every show wants to be identical to every other show with a standard line-up of guests with the same questions and same answers (with a few sparkling exceptions). I can understand the argument that some guests pull in more viewership than others and it is good for business, yet there is only so much of the likes of the Sheikh Rashid, Zaid Hamid and Roedad Khan type that one can bear without risking damage to the cerebral cortex. Let me give you an example of a question/opinion that will be mindlessly put in awful tones in every chat show every evening, it goes something like, “don’t you think the present democratic forces are the biggest threat to democracy” or “if democratic forces get their act together, no unconstitutional intervention or meddling is possible”. It does come across a bit like blaming the rape victim for dressing too provocatively. The media has a responsibility and a role to criticise and evaluate the governments, both provincial and federal, yet to hear sermons from Sheikh Rashid on respect for judiciary and Hamid Gul/Roedad Khan on democracy makes one queasy.
There is a vague streak of masochism in our media (particularly television), namely the failure to realise that its freedom to criticise, mock and abuse stems from this fragile, imperfect democracy. It is primitive to posit that there are choices other than a democratic set-up available to us; additionally, the media should not beg to have chains laid upon them, which is inevitable in a non-democratic set-up. November 2007 is not that distant a memory. I wonder if these gallant, fearless journalists applying the analogy of threat to democracy think that the media was somehow to be blamed for the totalitarian stupidity of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in shutting down television channels. Of course it was not, yet the same realisation should be present for democracy; demagogy does not necessarily need an invitation or an opening, it has a tendency of making one.
I am not suggesting that the media goes soft on the government, corruption or incompetence or stop making money. Yet, to assume that the public wants to see the same guests abusing one another every evening is condescending. There is a lot wrong with our governments, both federal and provincials, to allow for scathing criticism without inviting crazy and/or senile hucksters. Also, it is peculiar to claim to be objective and yet wear being ‘pro-judiciary’ as a badge of honour. More significantly, the media is not supposed to pander to every populist impulse. Exhibit A is the outrage on soldiers killed in the Salala incident compared with the beheading of our soldiers by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which could only register as a passing mention and not even a fraction of the outrage accorded to Salala. Very rarely is the sectarian affiliation of the Shia being killed on a daily basis mentioned. The demolition of Ahmadi mosques can barely be worthy of a news ticker.
No government has any or very little business censoring the media. In our case the present government cannot or should not restrict the freedom, even the freedom to abuse. However, it is not entirely unreasonable to expect that with the tremendous power that it wields, there is a semblance of self-regulation and responsibility, might even be in its self-interest in the longer run.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2012.
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@sabi: agree; NS is way better than PPP. PPP only has it's victim card on display ,no performance.
elementary @@ you lack the basic principals of the government A government has to be strong .a nation gap has thousands of years of history A term in office is nothing The courts ,if they think govt is corrupt should wait till elections ,Neither the army nor the courts have eight to run the country anywhere in the world Even in Pakistan people accused ofmcoruption are being prosecuted, ministers army officers are being investigated.THE PROBLEM EVERYBODY ISNTALKINGNABOUTNIS THE SELECTIVE TARGETINGN OF AMFEW PEOPLE AND PEEVENTING GOVT TO DISCHARGE ITS DUTIES
elementary, if we have some sort of infrastructure motorways, airports,green belts for oversea's foreign exhange relaxation which gives us some glimpses of modern world were all started by a guy nawaz sharif.i wonder how could a man bring such mega projects in a short span of time .a country under sanctions from international community, short of funds,short sighted buruecracy this"corrupt" politician come with a wonderfuul idea of BOT(build operate and transfer) and gives us a wonderfull motorway of international standards.but above all was his econmic reforms which paved the way for speedy industrialistaion of pakistan the only answer to the solution of all our socio.economic problems this guy has the enormous abilities and great passion to change the fate of pakistan.But do we recognise our real hero the answer is a big NO as our history tells us.i can talk much on this gentleman but space of this forum restricts me.
@Logic Europe: You want to give a government more powers,which is completely apathic to people's problems.Once fully powerful without any checks and balances no interference from judiciary or army and they will suddenly stop being morally corrupt and will start to care for the people. This is as immature a thinking as it gets.More power, my friend, makes you more not less corrupt.
racently a freind of mine suggested me to turn to ptv if i wanted to get away with frustrations and hpoelessness created by private media.i took his prposal and stuck to ptv for some days.i found two things, 1.muchless chaotic pakistan with kinde govt.doing every thing for its people welfare ,though problems existed but efforts were being done to get resolve them. 2.there was an absence of hoards of ghairat brigades.guess what happened-my frustration level got to a cosiderable low. but still this was not enough as i was used to ptv of eighties,with its classic dramas,music shows,reflecting our real values of tolerance respects,beautifull manners all we once had were missing.all gone.gone with the wind.the wind of intolrance, hatred,greed,ignorance.
@ elementary you do understand that Pakistan is a poor country and a great deal of suffering is due to this stark reality , no government can make people rich and comfortable instantly and judicial activism is preventing the government from doing whatever little it could so. Let pakistani people choose a new parliament with great majority so it can deliver it is a shame that some People think the government hs to be supervised a few judges ,most of them with little education than an LLLB with no know edge of people's problem A govt has to be a sovereign and not SUPERVISED
@sabi: I don't need any media to tell me that I am living in a mess..Whem I am struggling to meet both ends meet in the scorching heat of summer without power(electricity) I dont need "urdu media" to tell me that "elected" government is not delivering.
@Lala Gee: A hammer hit. Hope concerned will feel it. But no no it is Pakistan!
"@ elementary. Criticism is different than tring to bring down the government Most media men are imature and dogmatic They are imposing rheir thinking on people and creating a state of despair and despondancy Recently i saw a chap called dr danish saying that 70 MNAS are unable to read and wite in any language Can u name one.. The media should turn their guns against army and judiciary and let democracy work and stand on its feet
Too often is the simple explanation the logical yet we Pakistanis forget this in favor of elaborately ridiculous conspiracy theories. Keep up the good work Saroop.
elementary whome criticising milatary mulla and media have very very litlle acces to main plate forum(tv channels and widley published urdu print media) where signficant public opinion can be formed.and there our masters are dominating with their carrot and stick policy.media means business but also stick.civilians may have carrot but they do'nt have stick.this is a race towards power coridors since establishment has no moral or legal ground otherwise,it has to use media to maligne politicians as corrupt and incapable of running a state.and we have plenty of hypocrates appering on media having master degrees in hypocracy ethics and morality has long departed from this county.things are not as you see it on this this money making media.
Fake & shallow people deserve fake doctors! Do you seriously think they would listen to logic or reasoning?
Superb Article as Usual! Loved it but will fall on deap ears because we are very shallow people with no morals & ethics. Sadly rot will continue unabated.
Writer is talking about watching the so called God's of the country. Media it seems, has every trick in the book to malign democratic government even if it has done some credible work. Media today is more likely to relate to the picture story i see on FB some time ago in which a person was drowning and the people outside were taking pictures or making movie of it, rather saving the person.
"Apparently, the fake doctor has enough of a following and can bring in enough money for the concerned television channel to be unconcerned enough to not only re-hire him, but also to celebrate his return unashamedly with a broken horseshoe looking character singing and dancing."
It is not only disgusting that this cheap guy is again allowed to host a religious show supposed to provide spiritual guidance to the masses but is also an insult to the thinking sensitive people of Pakistan the way he is being promoted in the electronic and print media of Jang media group. Unfortunate this media group is not the only one to be blamed for unethical practices. The day he was made to quit, the next day he was hired by the competing Express Tribune group and then the ARY group.
It is also an insult to our intelligence when you term the present oligarchy as democracy. Where in the democratic world a ruling party's chairperson is appointed through 'will' who in turn appoints an adolescent a decade in advance the future chairperson of the party. Where in a democracy a convict of graft money laundering is elected (through party members) president of the country. Where in a democratic world the whole country is held to hostage just to save a man from his crimes and his US$ 60 million graft. Is there any place on earth where government is made to consistently refuse to obey the orders of the country's highest courts.
As always, an excellent analysis and very well written article. Thanks much
The Media has to play a role with a much higher level of responsibility. Pandering to the base instincts of viewers for TRP's should not be the objective.
It is also peculiar to criticise army,judiciary and media but never the sitting government (in the name of democracy); yet wear the badge of "objectivity".
"Also, it is peculiar to claim to be objective and yet wear being ‘pro-judiciary’ as a badge of honour." The same argument goes against the Express Tribune. It is peculiar of it to claim to be objective, impartial and yet wear the badge of pro-secularism and pro-liberalism. Sometime it seems like you are not reporting both the sides rather you are picking sides yourself.
Excellent as always
Roedad Khan and Hameed Gul, pillars of establishment and their respective dictatorships! Sheikh Rasheed Sahib also shares the credentials of being pro-establishment, yet all three appear on these so called "free" TV shows more often than anyone else. Its about time someone exposes these propagandists, great job Saroop, always many thanks.
Outstanding article, his is true with the fact "It seems that every show wants to be identical to every other show with a standard line-up of guests with the same questions and same answers"
People should know that it is not Pakistan what matters to these shows, It is there ratings. They can do any thing for ratings. And believe me these anchors have no right to set the minds of people that how Gov is working or which party is great etc. There should be some rules other wise we will often see programs like Javed Chuhdry where Firdous Ashiq Awan and Kashmala Tariq are abusing each other.
PCO judiciary is the darling of political activists of today therefore all "neutral" media persons and rightwing parties are together on this one point agenda under one "leader".
wonderful articl bravo. what should i add more to it.you have spoken every thing so magnificiantly.but i do'nt think this mafia, which we call independant media,will pay a damn to any advice on morality.shame on this media. kudos mr Saroop.
Good to read something a little different. If one looks at it dispassionately, after the news and live sports there really is not much to watch.