JOURNALISTS in the dock, media houses hurling accusations at one another, public scepticism growing. It’s time for the mainstream media in Pakistan, particularly the freewheeling and hugely influential electronic media, to assess where it stands and how to rebuild public trust and faith in an institution that is quintessentially Pakistani in its nature — there are some good parts but there are far too many dark spots. While the accusations are manifold and the protagonists many, the crux of the scandal is that several media proprietors and journalists are alleged to have discarded the industry’s raison d’etre — informing the public and holding public officials to account. Instead, they stand accused of having fallen into cosy relationships with power brokers, politicians and sundry other vested interests, selling their viewpoints in return for financial gain to the media entities and individuals involved. With intra-industry regulation lax, state regulation viewed with hostility and a public with an insatiable appetite for all things political, perhaps it was inevitable that scandal would seep through Pakistani journalism.

What can be done? The attempt by some quarters to move the superior judiciary to investigate misdeeds in the media industry may seem noble to some but it is misguided. For one, unethical and unprincipled as bribery may be, it’s not clear if private sector employees or employers would attract criminal sanction even if it were to be proved. In addition, the superior judiciary itself is a frequent subject of media discourse, so the potential conflicts of interests are too obvious to ignore. In any case, what exactly can the court realistically do to determine whether someone has, say, received a house in a foreign country or a large sum of money in a foreign bank account?

A better course of action is also a more difficult one: the industry itself — proprietors, journalists, viewers and readers represented by civil society — will need to draw up guidelines for separating news from opinion, fact from fiction and paid content from independent thought. State oversight is definitely unwelcome given the nature of the Pakistani state but that does not mean the state cannot have a facilitating role in creating an independent oversight body that reflects the commercial imperative of the news business while at the same time safeguarding it as a special sector with the public interest at stake. Over time, then, perhaps some of the worst excesses would be curbed. Realistically, though, the Pakistani media is drawn from, operates within and caters to a deeply flawed Pakistani society. To expect it to exist as a beacon of righteousness amidst a sea of mediocrity and worse may be a stretch too far.

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Comments (7)

Waheed Mazhar
July 22, 2012 7:04 pm
Its interesting that media, judiciary and powers that be in Pakistan are always keen to sit in judgement and hold accountable the politicians but are never willing to let themselves be held accountable before anybody. This self-righteous approach is the cause of many ills today and still the remedy prescribed is self scrutiny for the media itself and all sorts of media trial, propaganda and yellow journalism for the politicians. Its sad and tragic state of affairs.
July 28, 2012 6:39 am
There should be an institution like "Media Accountability Bureau" or "M.A.B" :-)
July 22, 2012 2:04 pm
Can you trust a perils entry commission to do the right thing?
Afzal A. Neseem
July 22, 2012 5:04 pm
Excellent conclusion to a fine editorial.It is the moral and ethical state of the Pakistani society itself which should cause concern to all those desiring reform of this or that institution.
M. Asghar
July 22, 2012 11:47 am
Although the editorial has not brought up the point, an independent commision composed of members from vroius institutions including the civil society, should be able to look after the working of different types of media in the country.
Iftikhar Husain
July 22, 2012 11:24 am
There should be a parliamentary committe to look into the whole case with the media if not judicial commission be appointed.
July 22, 2012 12:42 pm
Lets see what happens right now the situation is quite bad. Talk shows to articles one is surprized what people can do and write in the name of freedom. Very few anchors of any type are neutral and have the ability to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong. Most of the people in media dont know where their boundaries are in any respect.
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