The lost mission

Published Feb 16, 2012 12:30pm

-Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan

Human beings may be influenced by three major forms of power i.e. direct physical power on one’s body, by giving rewards and punishments or by influencing opinion. —Bertrand Russell*

The media industry in Pakistan has gained legitimacy slowly but surely among the people and come out a dynamic strength, particularly broadcast media. It is in essence the third category of Bertnard Russell’s classification of exercising power - power exercised through influencing public opinion.

Media houses, especially news channels have become pivotal actors in influencing public opinion. However, with this tremendous power of opinion shaping, the responsibility that comes with it seems to be amiss. Recently, and very rightfully many questions have been raised about the ethics, code of conduct, impartiality and the accountability of the Pakistani media.

Not too long ago, we witnessed serious concerns about the media’s moral vigilantism when a morning show host went hunting after couples in a park. But seeing how that episode has gotten its fair share of ‘coverage’, I’d like to instead talk about the tragic stampede in Lahore at a concert that resulted in the death of three girls; and how the media’s code of conduct in point of fact comes into question on this horrific incident and the series of events that followed it.

The concert in discussion was organised by the Punjab Group of Colleges (PCG) run by Mian Amir Mehmood, who (also) owns a private channel. Following the developments of this incident closely, it was appalling to realise that this dreadful episode did not even get its due coverage in the mainstream media. Various channels mentioned the news initially but no follow-ups on the developments of the story were reported. Not even local channels that normally extensively cover metropolitan news bothered giving it a highlight.

A press conference was held by the families of two of the deceased girls at the Lahore press club to demand a judicial probe into the matter and to punish those who were responsible for it. This press conference too went mostly unreported.

Being a political science major and a keen observer of news reporting in Pakistan, I have, by now, at least identified how much coverage a news story should get on the basis of its level of priority. The Lahore stampede news story did not so much as make it as a ‘main cover story’.

But wait, could this really just have been just a coincidence? How is that all newsrooms in Pakistan decided simultaneously on the airtime, or lack thereof, of this particular news story? I do not intend to slander someone gratuitously, but if my speculation of a case of media lobbying does stand true, it is a grave situation for the Pakistani public and needs immediate attention.

My speculation only gained strength when I dug into the details of the above mentioned press conference. Impartiality and honesty are the essence of news reporting; however, what happened at the press conference flouted all basic principles of journalism.

I found the proceedings of the press conference sordid. There were journalists who were representing the very same news channel whose owner’s repute was at stake and it was noticeable that they were speaking someone else’s words. The families of the victims were slapped with accusations, such as:

Are you trying to bargain the rate of blood money?

You also are associated with a private TV channel, are they pressurising you to do this press conference against another channel?

You have all the opportunities available to you and you are being given all the attention, it appears that you are just staging a drama here.

If you didn’t trust the management, why did you send your daughter to the concert?

This disgrace to the profession of journalism, kept bringing to mind something Pope John Paul II once said:

“With its vast and direct influence on public opinion, journalism cannot be guided by economic forces, profit, and special interest. It must instead be felt as a mission, in a certain sense sacred, carried out in the knowledge that the powerful means of communication have been entrusted to you for the good of all.”

Ironically, the media has become the very power that it was created to challenge.

These words of the Pope took me back to the times when Pakistan’s private broadcast media was in its initial stages of development. There was a great sense of assurance back then, the hope that there would be a might to challenge the already established and monopolised forces and enlighten the minds of our people.

They vowed to carry the sacred mission; the mission of honesty, sincerity and commitment to the truth. Alas.

*The above is not a direct quote by Bertrand Russell, but a reference from his book Power: a new social analysis. Dawn.com regrets the error.  

The writer is an Assistant Multimedia Producer at Dawn.com 

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Comments (20) (Closed)


S.najam
Feb 16, 2012 06:57pm
Excellent piece of work. pointed out soo well. media's surely become that power it wuz created to challenge. sad but true.
Tauseef
Feb 16, 2012 07:18pm
It is good to read a whistle-blower. Very brave attempt but please keep in mind the results of 'apna gireban chalk' of Dawn TV.
Agha Ata
Feb 16, 2012 07:35pm
Very few brains can detect an evill when it is just a bud. And alas, that fewer would heed and correct themselves.
Agha Ata
Feb 16, 2012 07:36pm
A few brains can detect an evil when it is just a bud; and alas, that fewer would heed and correct themselves!
A Rashid
Feb 16, 2012 08:04pm
It is an irony that freedom of media on the one hand being the foundation of a pluralistic, democratic order, has turned into a double edged weapon in Pakistan. Being the most effective tool of influencing opinions of people, it merits an extremely careful management which is out rightly missing. Most of the TV channels are devoid of impartiality and honest intellectual approach. But we need not lose hope as our media is passing through the epoch of teething troubles. The evolutionary undercurrents at work will take care and things will improve with the passage of time. A deliberate sifting of grain from the chaff is though warranted.
Ali Hassan Memon
Feb 16, 2012 08:10pm
This reminds me of the banker who lost his life in a reality show sponsored / arranged by a behemoth FMCG and a very well known advertising agency. His death got the least coverage.
syed moyn aly
Feb 16, 2012 08:50pm
i really liked what mr hassan has written. it is very touching and supports my notion that we are a dead nation. maybe a few like mr hassan are alive. May Allah protect people like you Hassan. we dont want to see the likes of you hurt! the press is now a malignant puppet!
Zubair Aslam
Feb 16, 2012 11:04pm
Very nice piece of work .
Mehreen
Feb 16, 2012 11:56pm
Great article. Keep up the good work!
Hazqeel Murtaja Sark
Feb 17, 2012 12:01am
I really believe media does play its role. But i always argue that the electronic media has mostly filled our ears and eyes with data of information and useless discussion. Do we really get some thing constructive to the psycho-social and economic benefits rather just unending bogus discussions.
S. Imtiaz
Feb 17, 2012 02:32am
its merely a hypocritical role that our media is playing. on one hand, it tends to control the government and on other media, itself is monopolized by few
S. Imtiaz
Feb 17, 2012 02:38am
media is merely playing a hypocritical role. on one end,it tends to control the government and on other, media itself is monopolized by few
Ahsan Ahmed
Feb 17, 2012 03:13am
Its time media should comprehend the position and responsibility it has. In its place of conveying a personal opinion media should provide a food for thought by unbiased statement of facts.
Sarosh Mustafa
Feb 17, 2012 03:18am
It was a nice read. Honest works are rare.
Saad
Feb 17, 2012 03:22am
Now that is spot-on. watch out Mian Aamer and Dunya TV
Mian Aamer
Feb 17, 2012 03:26am
Who told you that I took the mission of integrity and truth. I am here to make profits and in this bad economy, news business is the most profitable .
Khan
Feb 17, 2012 03:39am
salute to the whistle-blower. a way forward in investigative journalism. I hope you blow the whistles of other news agencies also, that how they put forward someone else's agenda.
Wazir Khan
Feb 17, 2012 11:39am
A superb effort by the author. In my opinion all news channels must follow a principle which must be clearly visible with their respective monograms / logos. That principle should be composed of: Impartiality, Honesty, courage and Patriotism. We all must try to follow these principles.
Saad
Feb 17, 2012 12:39pm
Media in Pakistan is like any other money making business where money (sponsorship/lobbying) matters, it is at most times no different from our government i.e corruption exists and ofcourse media uses its influence to make its audience look at things from a prespective that it wants to show which may not necessarily be the truth. Agree with the writer
anum
Feb 26, 2012 09:17am
absolutelyyyyyyyyyyy right....media can play a much much more better role in the present scenario.but alass they are lost in their race of trps n money..........well written ....hats offff