PAKISTAN’S electronic media has demonstrated often enough that it has grown faster than it has been able to mature. In this context, the scandal that has broken out in the wake of business tycoon Malik Riaz’s allegations against Arsalan Iftikhar, the chief justice’s son, is mind-blowing. On Wednesday, a news channel aired a ‘special’ during which two anchors ‘grilled’ Mr Riaz. A day later, the public was treated to behind-the-scenes footage of the three talking off-air. The video is compromising and indicates that the interview was fixed, with Mr Riaz approving the questions beforehand. A couple of phone calls, with the callers giving instructions and advice, during the clip have also dragged other names into the fray. More disturbingly, certain comments on this clip have led to concerns that the latter may have been ‘bought’ by Mr Riaz. A list of several journalists who allegedly received funds/favours from Mr Riaz has been in circulation — although Bahria Town has denied its authenticity.
The affair has blown the lid off two issues: intellectual dishonesty where the public is duped through set-ups and planted stories, and the clout wielded on TV channels by some of those being quizzed. Neither is new or limited to Pakistan. Unfortunately, what is popularly known as lifafa journalism, where some newsmen received money or favours from the police, agencies and politicians, has expanded to include business interests seeking to buy the sympathies or silence of journalists. So what lessons do we walk away with? First and foremost, the media in general needs to ponder over what constitutes integrity in journalism. For this, an internal mechanism imparting the values of ethical journalism is a necessity at media houses. The public, meanwhile, must learn to be more educated consumers of the news and not take everything at face value. At the same time, we hope that such incidents do not translate into a situation where the entire media is regarded as tainted. The media’s independence today has been achieved after decades of struggle against obscurantist regimes. The actions of a few should not tarnish the good work of others.