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Lights, camera, now weep!

May 24, 2011

Email

Media gather at the gates of the Mehran naval aviation base after troops ended operations against militants in Karachi May 23, 2011. Troops recaptured Pakistan's naval air force headquarters on Monday after a 16-hour battle with Taliban gunmen who had stormed the facility in the most brazen attack since the killing of Osama bin Laden. - Reuters Photo

First there were the blasts and then there was a fierce battle. As the events of May 22, 2011 unfolded, the nation received an in depth account of the happenings at PNS Mehran Base, Karachi, due to the continuous reporting by the media.

Fighting the militants, Lieutenant Yasir Abbas, Khalil-ur-Rehman, Javed Ahmed, Mohammad Fazal, Kashif, Amjad, Asghar and Mohammad Ali from Pak Navy, while two Ranger Commandos Akhter and Khalil Ahmed, were martyred in the attack.

While the Pakistani media gave minute by minute updates, it still has along way to go before it matures and is able to tackle reporting of such incidents. Our electronic media in particular needs to learn to control its emotions and not go haywire when it becomes overwhelmed with information which is usually the case when one is reporting on such an event.

The most important thing that needs to be taught to the Pakistanis media is the right of privacy of someone who has lost a loved one. While covering the Mehran Base attack, one reporter was present at Lt Yassir's home in Lahore hours after he had lost his life. The reporter was prodded by the news anchor to get a 'reaction' from the family. He managed to get the grandfather to comment grandfather, but that didn't seem to be enough for the anchor, who was probably being prodded by her producer, and she asked him to get the mother's reaction, to which the reporter replied she is in no state to comment. Even this didn’t deter the anchor and she said "can you talk to the sisters."

Doesn't it seem callous to be pushing your mike into the face of a grieving mother? What possible question can you ask her over the loss of her only son? Does one have to be taught to respect ones privacy and told to allow someone to mourn their loss without shoving them into the limelight? Unfortunately, we as a nation have no sense of privacy, therefore we have no respect for this either.

It's high time that our reporters, anchors and their producers need to be trained on how to handle such an incident. They should be taught the difference between timely and accurate reporting and sensationalism. They should be taught not to give out sensitive information which could help the miscreants and prove detrimental to the security forces. They must also be taught that good reporting does not mean going overboard and crossing sane boundaries.

During various occasions when the security forces have been launching operations against terrorists, our media has gone of the tangent and in the race to be the first to report may have helped the wrong side. This has happened during the GHQ attack and the CID centre attack in Karachi to name a few. Our reporters divulge too much sensitive information and their anchors and producers keep prodding them to get more. Of course it is their job to find out the facts, but there are certain cases where these facts should not be immediately revealed.

All over the world, the media is seen reporting various events but on some sensitive occasions the media is kept away, on the other side of the police line. This is not the case in Pakistan. Our media has no concept of this. In fact, when they are told to keep a distance, they make it sound as if they have been insulted and keep lamenting this fact. There are but a handful of journalists who are mature enough to understand the delicacy of reporting sensitive incidents.

And just because of their 'zeal' to report first, our journalist cause more mayhem and panic then anything else. Remember the bomb blast in a car front of PACC in 2004. When the first blast occurred our untrained media went close to the site to get better photos only to become victims of a second blast, which was to cause more damage than the first. This manic run to the site was only due to the fact that most of our media people don't get any training to handle their important but dangerous assignments.

Then there was this 'senior' anchor person who was doing her show live from CID centre in Karachi and she was live on air actually giving out the actual locations of terrorists who had been arrested that day. And it was being said that the CID centre had been attacked because of them. By giving their exact location, this journalist was actually leaking sensitive information that could be helpful to the terrorists.

Our channels would be well advised to give their team a set of rules so that it doesn't become an embarrassment for them when in their frenzy to report an event, especially a sensitive one involving terrorists, they don't lose sight of logic, reason and the respect for others in the overwhelming situation. Do report but with respect and sensitivity.

Annie Sibtain Rizvi is a freelance journalist and tends to ponder over the socio-political happenings with an empathetic outlook.