Yellow journalism

Published January 29, 2018

SOME sections of the media in Pakistan operate in an ethics-free zone, crossing the line between fact and fiction with few compunctions, no matter how serious the possible consequences. Indeed, they seem to have taken on some of the worst aspects of an often sensationalist social media.

A recent example is the Zainab rape-murder case where some elements have propounded theories with such certitude that these could easily be misconstrued as fact.

Take the claim of a well-known anchor that the prime suspect in the Zainab rape-murder case was operating several foreign currency accounts and had links with an international child pornography ring. A JIT inquiry probing the claims, with the help of the State Bank, reported that no such accounts exist.

However, the allegations have continued, sowing confusion in the public mind in a matter where emotions are already running high. A new JIT has now been formed to yet again look into his claims.

Notwithstanding the best efforts to fact-check information before putting it in the public domain, misinformation — that is, inadvertent dissemination of incorrect information — is an occupational hazard for journalists, and it should be promptly dealt with through corrections and clarifications.

Read: Fake news in Pakistan

Disinformation, or fake news — an oxymoron in the eyes of journalistic purists — is a far more dangerous beast. Driven by personal motives and a desire for self-aggrandisement, it is often strategically used to further sinister agendas that emanate from segments of society inimical to democratic ideals. Of course, fake news, especially in a world where social media sometimes sets the agenda, is not exclusive to Pakistan.

It is present even in countries where mainstream media is relatively free, official sources of information more accessible and hence the public less susceptible to conspiracy theories. The most effective antidote to fake news everywhere is a media that provides information that is, as far as possible, reliable, accurate and objective. Such an approach would act as a check even on the rumours and calumnies that emerge from social media.

Unfortunately, however, sections of the Pakistani media — especially among the news channels — have come to regard themselves as an unaccountable force, a bully pulpit armed with a licence to manipulate public opinion, even if lives are put at risk.

Journalists in Pakistan have fought a long battle for press freedom. Their struggle against autocratic regimes’ efforts to silence them or act as vehicles for their demagoguery could be lost by a few media persons who appear to have vested interests.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2018

Opinion

Editorial

Election time
Updated 27 Jan, 2023

Election time

There are concerns whether the ECP will be sufficiently able to protect the integrity of elections if they are held under partisan governments.
SCO invite
27 Jan, 2023

SCO invite

THOUGH India’s invitation to Pakistan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation events in Goa later this ...
Call to arms
27 Jan, 2023

Call to arms

ONE way the state abdicates responsibility in Pakistan is by farming out its functions to the private sector. In ...
Nuclear miscalculations
26 Jan, 2023

Nuclear miscalculations

IF the claim of former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, that Pakistan and India came close to a nuclear exchange...
Exchange rate cap
26 Jan, 2023

Exchange rate cap

THE ‘management’ of the exchange rate by the State Bank, allegedly at the behest of the government, to ward off...
Fawad’s arrest
Updated 26 Jan, 2023

Fawad’s arrest

Does the state really need to fan public discontent in a period as fraught with uncertainty as this?