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Smear campaigns

March 08, 2018

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THE last few days have seen a tawdry demonstration of the depths to which mainstream media and social media can sink for the sake of political point-scoring. It began with a story that was less news and more scandal-mongering, and which should never have seen the light of day. That in turn was met with even more scurrilous trolling on Twitter targeting the journalist concerned. The personal lives of politicians, male or female, should not be fodder for the media when the information has no significant bearing on politicians’ public lives. It is especially reprehensible when women are maligned in the process. Similarly, private individuals have a reasonable expectation that they will not be subjected on social media to smear campaigns targeting their families.

Notwithstanding the many principled individuals who call out the most egregious excesses in an effort to maintain some degree of civility on the forum, social media is too often a free-for-all cesspit for proxy battles. The anonymity afforded by Twitter often further sharpens the skirmishes. In such an environment, social media can even set the agenda, and push mainstream media and politicians into raising their decibel levels — which inevitably leads to a lowering in the quality of content. Public discourse has noticeably coarsened in the last few years: political parties, intelligence agencies and their trolls have shown little restraint in maligning the other side, and some media personalities have played along — much to the detriment of their professed vocation. If what has transpired over the last few days is any indication of the quality of debate that will be on display in the run-up to the general election, we are in for a season of unseemly mudslinging. However, it is high time that Pakistani media as a whole adopted a more mature approach instead of using their platform to settle scores and further personal agendas. Journalists must abide by the ethics of their profession; that is what distinguishes real journalism from that of the jaundiced kind.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2018