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Media ethics: Constant stress


Can we deny the immense effect of media, especially TV, on an average household? There have been a series of tragic incidents and natural calamities which were sensationally reported on local news channels, e.g. the earthquake in 2005, floods in recent years, air crashes, fire in buildings and factories, bomb blasts, ethnic clashes, etc. And to keep themselves updated viewers stay glued to news channels.

News channels running 24/7 undoubtedly keep us more informed but they also cause undue stress and tension.

It may be unfair to blame the media for all the apathy and anxiety, actually caused due to increasing anarchy in the country, but it has to be said that the media shows scant regard for the stress it casues in its race for top ratings and advertising profits through minute-to-minute breaking news.

For instance, remember the incidence of the live broadcast of the video clips of Owais Baig on local TV channels last November. Owais, a young man, died after falling from the burning State Life building in Karachi, in the presence of hundreds of spectators, the media and rescue workers. Throughout his 20-minute ordeal, which was telecast live, no sensible effort was made to save his life.

The video, which was later repeated multiple times on almost every channel, raised several questions regarding national conscience, professional code of conduct and responsibility of the public and media.

It is suggested that the media must launch public awareness campaigns to educate and train the masses about required actions during emergencies, such as giving way to ambulances at disaster sites, calling rescue service, getting first aid training and taking preventive measures to avoid such tragedies, etc.

Research shows that heavy exposure to stressful events is likely to contribute to hypertension, blood pressure, heart diseases and depression in middle-aged and elderly people. It may also contribute to increased frustration and anxiety among youth, especially when they are helplessly subjected to unavoidable circumstances.

Afsheen Anwer, a psychologist, believes that TV kills not just a person but a persona, a psyche and a child’s imagination. She is of the opinion that repeated exposure to onscreen violence generally leads to two possible reactions in children and the youth — they either become indifferent to what is happening in their surroundings or turn into extremely fearful and anxious individuals.

Nadia Zafar, news producer at BBC, believes that constant breaking news, bleeding red screens and elevated noise levels, deprive viewers of essential elements, such as balance, context and information. She adds, “TV journalists bear the responsibility of being the connection between the news and the people, and this carries a sort of inherent duty to treat the viewers well.”

Mansoor Ali Khan, an anchorperson on a leading news channel, believes that Pakistan unfortunately, has been the most active country in terms of tragic breaking news, especially during the last two years. He says, “Since such incidents are taking place regularly, local news channels have no option but to cover them.”

However, he added that the media should be made accountable to a representative public body that must ensure responsible journalism in the country. He believes that only this way we can expect quality journalism and responsible, balanced reporting on electronic media in Pakistan.

Sanam Rehan, mother of two children, says “Children nowadays are sensible enough to understand that breaking news is something sensational as it often leads to announcement of closure of schools the next day.” She is concerned that exposure to such harsh realities has turned the children into more intolerant and aggressive individuals.

In the absence of role models and weakening social institutions, media emerges as an alternative force that influences young minds. Pakistan’s media needs to revisit and revise its role as an emerging force, while the civil society, parents and the audience must also monitor and regularise the role of media before it is too late.

Pemra rules 2009 clearly state, “No programme shall be aired which is likely to encourage and incite violence.” More specifically, these rules prohibit any programme that denigrates children and tends to glorify crime or criminals.” However, there is hardly any implementation of the rule. Moreover, it is disturbing to learn that most TV journalists, reporters and presenters hardly get any formal training related to news coverage of serious issues and tragedies.