Freedom or license for TV?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE is much to be cherished about the freedom that our media, especially the electronic media, has come to enjoy. The extent to which this freedom — it was called licence in earlier days — has gone is provoking a debate. This is a positive development because there are some media heavyweights who are now ready to admit that something is amiss.

When critics first started speaking up against the electronic media a few years ago, the issue that gave rise to controversy was the portrayal of violence. The Pakistan Medical Association raised this issue and invited some journalists for a dialogue to explain how scenes of violence impacted on the minds of young children.

Some media representatives defended themselves taking the plea that information should not be suppressed and if society was riddled with violence it was inevitable that the media would report it. Not much came out of this exercise immediately. In due course the journalists’ body (mainly the PFUJ — Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists — when Mazhar Abbas was the secretary general) did attempt to draw up a code of conduct that suggested restraint in reporting violence.

Now other issues have come up. There was the case of moral policing done by a presenter from Samaa TV who invaded the privacy of couples in a park to ‘expose’ their ‘immorality’. The hue and cry that followed led to her being sacked.

Television’s political role is another controversial issue that has seen charges being levelled against various channels of acting as spokesmen for the establishment, of trying to bring about a ‘regime change’, conducting a public trial of leaders and so on.
The fact is that the media, notably the news channels, and journalists have themselves emerged as political actors and kingmakers. Instead of reporting impartially or investigating objectively, they are playing a partisan role. Hence, as is to be expected in a polarised society, the rumpus is loud. But it is also divided and therefore has produced no impact.

Since the media is not a monolithic entity, what emerges is a babble, both on the wider media scene and on the screen itself.
Participants trying to speak at the same time and raising their voices in a bid to be heard are familiar sights. A strong and independent media in a democratic society always has clout. But it ordinarily does not use this clout blatantly to promote its own interests. Not so in Pakistan. Anyone who wants to be someone in the national power structure first scrambles to own a media outlet.

And this is being defended in the name of democracy which is a messy business and the media operating in these times will inevitably be equally messy, we are reminded. Babar Ayaz, a former colleague in Dawn and now a communication consultant, is right when he says the environment in which the media operates — especially in the context of democracy — has changed and that has affected the media’s working.

The change in the political environment has brought us the boon of media freedom. Until the transition process is completed and the economic culture of the new multi-structural society evolves we should be prepared for the contradictions we witness. After all it was not too long ago when an editor could be thrown into prison for minor transgressions of draconian press laws, and television and radio were officially owned. When the controls were relaxed there came a wind of heady freedom that has thrown the media off balance.

But that is not the only factor that has affected the media. Another change has come through the rapid development of technology that has ushered in the 24/7 phenomenon. Television’s content and style have changed to meet its need of filling in so much air time at minimum cost. It leaves no space for the viewer to absorb the information transmitted and reflect on it.
There is no off day and the screen does not go blank as it did in the 1960s (when PTV made its debut) after the national anthem had been played.

This has also created a new need for television to expand its revenues that has in turn led to the battle for ratings to earn a greater number of commercials, thus affecting the quality of programmes. This has serious implications for the country for after all is said and done we know that the electronic media is shaping our lives and not just politics. With TV hosts who do not even understand the potential they have of inflicting damage on our society, have no training in audio-visual presentation and are ignorant of laws that have a bearing on the media, this unchecked freedom can be devastating. An exercise to introduce sanity in the domain of political reporting will prove to be a challenge.

There is a way out. Babar Ayaz calls on the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to hold workshops to inform the media persons about democracy and multi-structural societies. Good idea. But why not expand the scope? Media persons also need to be educated about their social responsibilities, ethics and what is called in simple language journalism.

It is not what is reported but how that needs to be addressed. Moreover, can speculation be allowed to take centre stage? We know very well how a statement by a political leader can create varying — even misleading — impressions by the way it is presented. So Mazhar Abbas is spot on when he calls for the training of media persons in technical skills — reading the news, handling the camera etc.

Source: Dawn

21 thoughts on “Freedom or license for TV?”

  1. Andrew Boyd in his book “Broadcasting Journalism” said,” an uneasy alliance exists between the drive for profit and the quest for news on any commercial station that depends on ratings for its survival. When profit motive replaces news values there is pressure to the lowest public taste for fear that audience and advertisers alike will desert the station delivers only the goods that the mass market will buy. That pressure spills over the newsroom.” Journalistic ethics world over has eroded in the post 9/11 journalism. Wire services like afp,ap or reuters which always discourage their correspondents from giving stories, quoting anonymous or quotes from officials on condition of anonymity now use it more often. Recently, some staff of one of the these wire services left the job from Islamabad, because some their stories were not treated properly, angling the stories etc. In 2008, pfuj in an International summit presented 16-points code of ethics. It was one of the most representative event of media stakeholders. Later, i send it to all of them for their consent i.e. govt. apns, cpne, pba. Never got response. I have the feeling the owners are not interested in ethical journalism but anything which brings them revenue even at the cost of worst kind of professionalism. I still believe that the Media Complaints Commission, MCC proposed in the summit provide the basic platform for ethical journalism. Other option will be independent Ombudsman should be appointed by each media group. I am glad that Express Tribune, when launched appointed Justice Fakhruddin G.Ebrahim as its Ombudsman. However, he should be appointed for the entire group rather than for the English newspaper. Mazhar

  2. Interesting article. What PEMRA should also do is to force all media companies to be Publicly Listed, like banks. This will allow better scrutiny of Media Business, and improve transparency.

  3. You need to watch Fox news for a few days or listen to some talk back radio in some of the developed world to realise that journalism in pakistan is not too different from that of the 'civilised' world.

    Tiime will separate the wheat from the chaff. Dont worry too much, people are not stupid.

    1. I can't agree more!!! Media of the developed world has several glorifying examples of "partisan role".

  4. An excellent and concise piece that sums up the negative impact the electronic media has on our society especially the youth. The author has ably laid open what media should not portray – violence reporting, dramas and plays depicting violence and stresses. Secondly our programmes are infested with commercials – normally in an hour 20 minutes go commercial even if the channel had to repeat the commercial in one break several times. Several commercials are very high pitched I don’t remember seeing any foreign channel where even the news and updates are sponsored. True all talk shows are display of verbal bouts which many of us don't understand. Further the TV anchors also do not conclude and sum up the discussions.

  5. I seriously doubt that this question about liberty/licence binary will ever be settled; i am a believing Manichaean, and do not have any faith in the end of dialectic.
    badri raina
    delhi

  6. This is to add to last comment. In the DAWN of 23 August 2006 I had written a letter on "Reflections of Our TV Plays" in which I concluded how our TV playwrights our creating misconceptions in our youth by producing plays that does not reflect our true culture and norms. I also stated that “where our youth cannot perceive a crime TV plays provide them a lead.” Before concluding I suggested that “PEMRA can bring together TV Producers, writers, channel operators, and all other stakeholders including viewers representatives on one platform, discuss and formulate code of ethics and conduct for all to show our youth what we are in reality.”
    I truly believe that “our realistic approach to life can build our national character and our society that we all owe to this nation now and for posterity in the future.” TV is indeed a formidable media if its strengths and positives can be harnessed and reflected truly and the way it should be. Let us show to the world that we “neither copy east nor west, we our own Best”

  7. The way this article covers everything shows how opinion columns are required to be written. The SAMAA TV incident was covered by others too but this hits the spot.

    I hope we see a better media soon.

  8. A very well written article today as well, specially the first line of last paragraph “It is not what is reported but how it needs to be addressed”.
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  9. I want to comment upon the most irresponsible attitude of the TV channels in presenting programs and plays, which although entertainment contribute significantly in creating stereotypes of people, women, in particular. Most plays are deeply demeaning to women and portray them as feeble, hapless, subservient underclass who are willing to put up with the most vicious treatment, mental and physical abuse and degradation by their spouses and/or in-laws only to avoid the 'shame' of a divorce and are fearful to stand on their two legs.

    The most egregious example of that is a play on HUM these days by the name of "Meray Qatil Meray Dildar' probably the most implausible, idiotic and anti-women play ever presented on the Pakistan TV, showing a robotic mousy girl with a Masters in Psychology who is content to be treated like a dog by her lecherous husband who has connived to have his brother marry another educated (with MBA) girl whom he lusts after and whom he had been harrassing for quite sometime. The girl has encountered his brother-in-law's several attempts to molest her yet she continues to live in the same house with her jellyfish of a husband.

  10. Very well written. We need to focus more on the “Ratings issue”. This may be surprising for everyone that a few thousand people decide the fate of a Channel — whether it is to grow or not. Monitoring meters are installed some time with the consent of the owner of the television or some time without consent of the owner. to observe and determine what channel people are interested tin watching. These meters are installed (hearsay approximately 1500 to 2000) at various location in different cities of Pakistan. Mostly installed in Karachi. What 186 million people of Pakistan are watching is not that worthy, its only matters that which type of transmission owners of tv with these rating meters want to see. And unfortunately no one exactly knows what, where and which is the criteria for installing rating meters and observe?
    I believe its a Modern Mafia, which actually controls not only the fate of channels but trying to corner the developing and growth of the nation.
    Channels need money to meet their expenses, advertisement agencies are using these rating charts to distribute their money within channels, to get rating channels cross all the limits. No ethics, no journalism, no code of conduct can stop them doing so. It’s like Hunger feelings, where there is no rule of law and man can be violent to survive. Pakistan is the land which has produced various veteran journalists but now they are equally confused with telemedia, that how to counter this rating issue???

  11. It is interesting to note a piece that poses a few pertinent questions. Sadly ,not many comments measure up to the meaningful contribution.
    It is the job of the Media to inform,educate and entertain. Then the question of control over the output baffles many who repeat the mantra of democracy but do not accept it head on.
    No thank you ,no controls no "big brother", no moral police or vigilantes, Mullah can have his say as well as the local butcher who wants to sell pork.If the prostitutes can ply their business in the dark corners of the "Kachi Abbadis" why not in the civilised accommodations ? The laws of the land should be strong enough to punish defamation/ libel and untruths, with significant sanctions to deter indulgences.
    In a democracy people will have different views, they should be able to express them. Period. If you don't like a station, switch it off, if it is defaming you or telling lies about you,sue it in a court of law.(one hopes the Courts behave like courts in a civilised country)
    There is always newspapers and TV and Radio stations that will serve the moneyed class as they do in USA. In my view like Fox News an uncivilised organ in a civilised country.
    If the democracy is your choice of government, you will have to have a place for the low level of ' journalism'.
    There are two more things essential for a civilised Media in a civilised country. Have an independent nationalised TV and Radio as an essential part of the social services, that is the flag bearer of the best journalism in the country. I do not mean, the likes of PTV, I mean a Statuary Body running the organisation funded by the treasury and above the Political Party influences, like the BBC in the UK. Where only the best of the profession could survive.
    All Media owners must be registered to pay taxes in Pakistan, and all capital investment in the organisations should be open and available for scrutiny as any public organisation should be. No hidden owners getting funds from out side the country.
    Shafiq

  12. Yet another analysis of the social evil without conceiving any prejudice against any one. Likewise many WRITE-UPS posted by you this one also is in the context of Pakistan and same time your dindings can be applied anywhere. I would highlight the following points:

    a. TV Channels are being owned by Political Bosses or Big Industrialist so naturally Channel will keep care of His owner i.e. HIS MASTERS VOICE.
    b. A thief disclosed in the court that the method employed by him for theft was stolen from a TV Channel. The writer of that show replied to the court that he scripted or written the idea by stealing it from the actual life but from other part of earth. So Channels say we are airing what we see in public and wrong-doers says he practices what he saw on TV.

    c. All TV Channels are business oriented and would present what the majority likes in order to yield revenue.

    d. Non Stop TV has completely damaged the health and living style. We believe in remote and not on our here and there movement. Eyes are the soft victim of TV and too many have fallen for the benefit of specs manufacturer.

    e. Students rarely switch on educational programmes but completely committed to fashion, beauty, movies, violence shows. Recently Google gave the information that porn sites are at top searched site. Naturally these very people will try to find some porn material on TV also.

    f. Each TV Channel should be forced to give adequate time for educational, cultural and social life.

  13. I had a chance to read this insightful and thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking article yesterday while at work. Indeed, the writer is spot on when she says that the media, which is still in its infancy and has yet to show maturity, sometimes goes over the board and get patently prejudiced and partial. Take an example of the glorification of the armed forces or the judiciary; the way certain anchorpersons and media persons are siding the judiciary and the culpable ISI speaks volumes of the media's partiality and bias. This should not be. Why don't heavyweights like Kamran Khan or Ansar abbasi or anyone of their ilk talk about dragging the corrupt journalists and army generals to the court? And why doesn't anyone point their fingers at the crumbling state of the affairs of the lower courts and the shenanigans of the lawyers? Why does everyone in the media vent their catharsis at the politicians? And what about journalists themselves? Are they as clean as the driven snow, or angels descended from the sky? These are some pressing questions that the media should answer–and answer satisfactorily. We should, however, be grateful to unbiased and impartial journalists like Najam Sethi who always talk sense and put emotions and jingoism on the back burner. We need people like him, frankly.

  14. Gone are the days when there were restrictions on media as a consequence of media policy of The incumbent authority. But at present media enjoys freedom of expression within the set parameters. Now it is the responsibility of the media to carry out the job with out stepping out the confinement. A healthy and pragmatic media can play its part in pinpointing and sorting out the problems confronting the nation

  15. I do trust all of the concepts you’ve introduced in your post. They are really convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for novices. May just you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I have posted it. I agree with your view on the brevity of my articles. These posts are actually columns I write for the newspaper. I have been assigned 900 words. I try to fit in what I have to say in this space.If you could tell me what needs further elucidation I shall clarify that. I want more comments and when there is something that needs to be explained I reply on the website. Thanks and regardsZubeida

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