By Zubeida Mustafa
SEX crimes and child abuse are reported to be on the rise in Pakistan. So are mental illnesses and the reach of the media. This is not a coincidence for the correlation between them has been widely recognised the world over. The fact that has however not been generally understood, in Pakistan at least, is that many of these evils have always existed but are now being reported more extensively, unethically and unprofessionally with a lot of bias. Since the reportage is generally flawed it can be quite disturbing for a young view/listener/reader.
One may ask what has mental health got to do with it especially in children? There was a time when adults were very careful about what they spoke before children. Parents actually exercised ‘censorship’ on images whether in print or projected electronically. The simple reason for this caution was that a child’s mind is sensitive to all that it is exposed to till quite an age. How it behaves in life is to a great extent determined by childhood experiences. For instance, it is well-known that many of those who commit sex crimes have suffered sex abuse themselves in childhood, have experienced violence or have witnessed it. Add to this list the youth and adolescents who are exposed to pornography habitually.
All this has collectively reinforced the patriarchal culture and mindset of our society that has become another factor in creating the unhealthy environment we are living in. One wonders to what extent such exposure is leading to mental illnesses as described by psychiatrists a number of whom spoke at the seminar organised by the Pakistan Association of Mental Health on the occasion of World Mental Health Day. In the same vein, one could well ask whether it wouldn’t be better to go in for the preventive approach rather than resort to drugs when patients complain of a disorder. Creating awareness and group counselling are also vital measures that must be encouraged. Actually health needs to be considered as a state of well-being rather than the absence of disease.
The time has come to emphasise the importance of healthy attitudes to negate the debilitating impact of social media and the sensationalism spread by mainstream media and communication technology. They could well destroy the world. They have replaced human interaction — both formal and informal, professional and familial — that were once the mainstay of emotional bonding, that underpins mental health. Article continues after ad
Healthy attitudes are necessary to overcome media’s negative effects.
But should the remedy be the banning of media outlets? Such arbitrary measures do not really help at all. They create resentment and controversy. There are two approaches that must be adopted. One is to sensitise the public as well as the mediapersons to the crisis of sex crimes and violence against women. Mental health professionals should also alert people to the commercial interests of political vested interests, religious lobbies and the media.
It is important to explain to the public how those guilty of creating sensationalism hope to profit by their wrongdoings in terms of money and power. Their ambitions can be neutralised by using institutions such as schools, colleges and universities, the judiciary, police and other such organisations to sensitise young people to the gravity of these issues and educate them about strategies that could help.
This is a very sensitive matter that cannot be brushed aside as delay itself would be destabilising for the environment. Needless to say, good education based on an understanding of the adolescent and with provision for sports and games and a curriculum based on life skills-based education can take the youth far.
The second approach that must be addressed is to remind people about the dangers of unregulated freedom to youngsters at a time when they are adolescents and entering an age when hormonal changes are taking place and when they need emotional stability and family support. They are personally entangled in an internal hormonal battle themselves. These are challenging times for parents and it is the latter who should have the major role in their offspring’s upbringing.
Social media has also opened the doors to an influx of misinformation and distorts events as the media has not been trained or guided on how to report crime and terrorism. Guidelines and workshops could help. But bans as the recent one on TikTok (now reversed) are always harmful.
Instead of banning programmes, Pemra should issue guidelines on how news should be covered without any display of violence. The chat shows full of screaming anchors and speakers also need to tone down their noise levels. Even political leaders who use abusive language should be mindful of the image they project. Why can’t Pemra insist on more cultural and socially educative programmes that have a soothing effect on the spectators to be telecast?