MUBASHIR Zaidi speaks at the seminar.—White Star
MUBASHIR Zaidi speaks at the seminar.—White Star

KARACHI: Senior journalists shared their views on the current state of the media at a seminar titled ‘Media crisis in Pakistan’ held at Szabist on Wednesday evening.

Journalism teacher and political commentator Prof Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan said during this year’s general elections, two terminologies were heard — deep state and political engineering.

“And now a new term, media engineering, has been introduced. All of us agree that the democratic system is the only way through which the country can progress. One of the main pillars in that system is that of the media. From 1947 to the early 2000s, the media has faced many a crisis; but the ongoing one is different because it’s not being exposed. In 1947, the state had three to four ways to control the newspapers. One was through laws, second was through not issuing advertisements, third was stopping newsprint and fourth by giving advice [read: directives] to journalists,” he added.

Dr Khan said after 1988 media laws changed a bit in a good way.

The media needs to restructure and redefine itself

The current crisis began two years back when the Supreme Court ordered the governments not to issue advertisements, he said, adding: “Today media houses are in a crisis in which salaries are not being paid to employees. It is the need of the state to give adverts. Unfortunately, the present government is using the stoppage of adverts as a weapon.”

He said some time back he was in Multan where he got to know that Geo TV channel was not being aired in some localities. Similarly, in Lahore he was told that Dawn was not being circulated in some areas for unknown reasons. “This is something new. Therefore the crisis that the media is facing is not being exposed. Viewers and readers don’t know that the news they’re getting is being filtered.”

Mubashir Zaidi said he had been working as a journalist for the past 27 years. “Ever since, there’ve been problems. Yes, it is to do with the military but our democratic regimes are also repressive. As a reporter or TV anchor it is our duty to inform and say what is happening. There are ways to say, between the lines or straightforwardly. There are pressures, but it is up to journalists how to resist them.”

Mr Zaidi said a half-baked story was the most dangerous story. “As journalists we need to cover all angles. There will always be pressures. In Nawaz Sharif’s [second] tenure [as prime minister], Najam Sethi was picked up. Journalists are at the receiving end most of the time. It’s up to them to know whether they’re able to handle the pressure.”

Anchor Uzma Alkarim said the media was going through a crisis within itself.

She mentioned ‘digitisation’ in that respect and said there was a time when newspapers were fondly read. “That’s changing. Today social media has entered our lives. It is creating a financial crisis as well.”

She said pressures also came through decisions such as firing of colleagues. It affected journalists’ productivity, she said.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said these days the best comedy show is Donald Trump’s press conferences.

Defining journalism, he said news is something ‘unusual’. In that context he gave the example of Trump’s recent presser on US midterm elections, pointing out that it became news when the US president interacted with a journalist telling him that he was ‘rude’ and ‘terrible’. “That aspect dominated coverage [more] than what the presser was held for because it was ‘unusual’.”

‘Fake news syndrome’

He said that right now “fake news syndrome” had taken over. By the time fake news had been denied, people had already built an opinion on it, he said, adding: “Practically all of us are journalists, because journalism is basically giving information, and a smartphone [social media] can do that. But no one knows from where that news originated. This is the basis of a journalist, that is, a journalist should know from where a piece of news originated. A journalist should get news first, but first get it right.”

Mr Abbas said in Pakistan the TV [news] media phenomenon started off in an irrational manner. “That whole structure appeared to be going down. If we look back, we will see that it was the editor of a newspaper who used to be the highest paid employee, but [now] on television an anchor of a programme is the highest paid person. An anchor is like an actor. If he doesn’t have journalistic credentials, he will read the script as it is. But if he has credentials, then the anchor will verify news.

“The media needs to restructure, redefine itself. Freedom of the press is for the people,” he remarked.

After the speeches, the floor was opened for a question-answer session with the Szabist students.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2018


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