Thanks to the liberal policies and benign attitude of the former Pakistani military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf towards private media in the beginning, the nation witnessed tremendous rise and growth in the media industry during the first decade of the 21st century. Also there was no cross-media restriction; making Pakistan a unique example in the South Asia.
After the formal de-regulation of the media industry in Pakistan in 2002, the media sector emerged as a powerful organ of the society, influencing other spheres of life with its proactive support to the issues of interest. Media’s support to democracy and then lawyers’ movement helped it in gaining necessary momentum. Similarly, media’s coverage of war on terror has highlighted its harsh effects on Pakistani economy and on the people of restive tribal belt.
This media-boom created new openings for the journalists and also resulted in emergence of self-proclaimed proponents of media-moxie in shape of anchor-persons; often championing of everything that could improve rating of their channels. Thus, popular media has now emerged as the most influencing pillar of the state with no virtual control on it. Even the state organs like PEMRA have failed to regulate or contain media’s new-found liberty of belligerent expressions.
In this peculiar scenario, sane segments of the society have begun to necessitate the need of regulating the ‘irrepressible’ media industry. However, in the backdrop of rising global trends in press freedom and easy access to internet-based social media, any such move could prove counter-productive. Moreover, the need for media accountability in the 21st century, when it has become a multi-billion dollars industry, the world over, and private sector has taken over the reins from the public sector, would be quite a tricky process which will be opposed by the powerful media barons tooth and nail. There is, therefore, a need to cautiously adopt institutionalized approach which helps in attaining the sheer goal of credibility, impartiality and transparency for this sector and the stakeholders also get benefitted by its professional working. It’s also sanguine that a mutually agreed upon procedure of media accountability would slake the powerful media barons, as well.
It’s quite alarming to note that electronic media, now and again, telecast such a material whose projection may have been avoided in the larger national interest. Pak media continues to give unnecessary projection to Hollywood & Indian film heroes and heroines; it occasionally severely criticizes the state institutions especially Pak army for reasons best known to it and ignores important issues of public importance like rampant corruption and maladministration in the public sector. It also gives no projection to plight of journalists getting low salaries which are often delayed or not given, at all.
It is, therefore, need of the hour that media industry should adopt concrete measures for self-accountability to ensure professional ethics and win public trust. It should determine boundaries of professional ethics, now, so that it could work more professionally in the future.
It’s a healthy sign that two of the senior Pakistani journalists have filed an important petition in the higher judiciary for the setting-up of an accountability commission to devise code of conduct for the media industry. It’s good to note that a two-member committee, comprising of Justice Jawaad S. Khwaja and Justice Khilgi Arif Hussain, is already monitoring the issue of journalistic ethics in Pakistan.
It’s hoped that a composite code of conduct for the Pakistani media industry would be designed and developed which would earn it more prestige and respect in the global market. Hopefully, it would also ensure conducive atmosphere for the working journalists so that they could work without any fear of reprisal. It is, however, needed that this code of conduct shouldn’t create any hindrance or depreciate the working of the journalists. On the other side, the establishment of long-awaited institution of the Press Council of Pakistan is a step in the right direction which would help the stakeholders to settle their issues amicably.
It is hoped that after the establishment of Press council of Pakistan, trends of responsible journalism would further grow up and strengthened. It’s no new concept; the first Press Commission of Pakistan was set-up way back in 1954. It was reconstituted in 1958 but couldn’t continue due to differences of the stakeholders. The Ordinance of setting-up of Press Council of Pakistan was issued in 2002 but the idea couldn’t be materialized due to varied reasons. It is yet another benefit of the present day democracy that this Council is established, at last, and this platform would give an opportunity to all the stakeholders to sit together and reach consensus on issues of mutual importance.
Another important aspect which is ignored by the Pakistani media is its approach towards national security. It’s universally held view that the media decides frontiers of its working according to its particular circumstances and there is no harm in it. Even in neighboring India, which claims to be the biggest democracy in the world, the media toes line of action given by it’s external affairs ministry and no one dares to cross it. Coverage of all sensitive issues pertaining to Pakistan including core issue of Kashmir dispute, water dispute between Pakistan and India, war on terror, atomic energy etc., is done according to the policy dictates of the external affairs ministry. Unlike Pakistani media which is used to giving daily projection to Indian movie stars and Bollywood masala stories, Indian media never gives projection to any positive story about Pakistan. It’s their policy guideline to portray a negative image of Pakistan. Similarly, Israeli media gives very little coverage to terrorism incidents & miserable conditions of Palestinians; this is their self-designed code of conduct. They prefer national image over their profession.
Also, media is a multi-billion dollars industry in the USA which influences the whole world with its ‘supposed’ impartial projection. U.S. media claims to be fully independent but are actually not. No deviation is made to the guidelines set by the pentagon on war on terror; although they give full coverage to third world issues like human rights, minority rights, women and child rights, environmental degradation, democracy, health and education etc. but never ever cross the ‘redline’ on war on terror. This is their preference of national interest over professional interests. U.S. Establishment has complete ‘invisible’ control over U.S. media houses. U.S.’ strategic interests are well-protected by the media. The countries like North Korea and Iran are portrayed as international villains; Pakistan is mostly portrayed negatively to keep it under control, while India is shown as a vibrant example of popular democracy.
If Pakistani media adopts this global trend of self-accountability then it would emerge as more credible and reasonably professional. It will also help to get rid of negative trends of yellow journalism. Urdu press is more prone to the trends of sensationalism and slang journalese is often used in stories. It needs to use reasonably correct journalese so that state institutions are not portrayed disrespectfully before the people.