Media without dignity

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE scandal surrounding the now defunct “News of the World” which has brought much embarrassment to the high and mighty in London will hopefully prove to be the proverbial watershed that the media in our globalised world badly needs.

One positive result of the fall of Rupert Murdoch’s empire in Britain is that questions are being asked about the integrity of his 200 or so outlets that span several continents. Mercifully, the first bubble to burst was in a country known for its respect for the rule of law and human rights. Had a misdeed of this nature been committed by a media outlet in a country like Pakistan where governance is weak and the law flouted with impunity it would have been hastily covered up. In fact, accusing fingers would have been pointed at those wanting to muzzle the media.

Now that the News of the World stands exposed for its abuse of the law on people’s right to privacy and bribing the police, it is time the issue of the media’s role were taken up seriously not just in Britain, where it is being addressed, but internationally. The lines must be clearly drawn by the stakeholders, and governments should ensure that no one oversteps them. I didn’t realise how the media has been receiving quite a bit of flak from all sides until I was handed a resolution at the Caux Human Security Forum that I attended recently.

Last year, the participants at Caux had adopted a motion urging the media to “restore the credibility and dignity of their profession”. Its observations were telling: “We are living in a time of fundamental crisis, which is not only economic, but a crisis of civilisation itself. This is the age of a pseudo-civilisation of materialism, consumerism and hedonism. We are convinced that the media should play a crucial role in helping to find the way towards a new, enlightened civilisation. In fact, without honesty, open-mindedness and dedication to this cause in the media there is very little chance that we would emerge from this current global crisis.”

And what are the qualities that are considered important to pull humanity out of this crisis? The resolution speaks of honesty in the media itself, democracy in the country where the media operate, and above all a strong community of citizens. Admitting that the media crisis was a part of the global crisis, the resolution emphasised that the media “can and must be a big part of the solution”.

Of course, this message was not disseminated widely enough and I doubt if any media parties in Pakistan ever heard of this appeal from Caux in 2010. That is the problem in seeking solutions from those who are a part of the problem themselves. They do not help in its solution in a big way. If they wanted to why would they have caused the problem in the first place?This year Caux devoted an entire session to ‘the media in an age of crisis’ that was chaired by Bernard Margueritte, president of the International Communications Forum.

M. Margueritte summed up the crisis very succinctly. The media should be seen in the present-day context, that is, the age of globalisation, control of big business over the media (in the West it is the arms industry) and profit-making being the end-all and be-all of the media even if it results in trivialising its agenda by resorting to sensationalism. Against this backdrop, journalists are manipulated and they in turn manipulate the public.

In Pakistan where democratic traditions are virtually non-existent and the rule of law carries no meaning the hue and cry against its misdeeds has fallen on deaf years. Corrective measures have not been taken even though media functionaries have been accused of accepting paybacks and inciting murders and violence. The government is also said to be using the media for its own nefarious purposes. Remember the secret funds at the disposal of the information ministry? Many journalists offer the excuse that they are under pressure from their proprietors to produce stories that sell.

Can a handful of people be allowed to hold society hostage? Since not all media people have sold their souls to the devil it is time for them to act to restore the dignity of the media and save their integrity and reputation. In the absence of an established code of ethics and a commission to receive complaints, which could never be created given the relationship of mistrust among the various parties, the time has come for the members of this profession to make yet another attempt to draw up guidelines for their work.

If the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and editors of all major newspapers and news editors of television channels join hands on what they want journalism — print and electronic — to be they could resist pressure from those proprietors who resist ethical norms. Change is possible.

This would, however, require the media bodies to draw up a code of ethics, provide training to their members who have not been exposed to the norms of dignity and even set up a fund to prevent the victimisation of their colleagues who suffer monetary losses if they refuse to bend the rules.The need is to create the space and time for journalists to do the needful, namely, research and verify their stories while doing some thinking on how they are to be presented.

18 thoughts on “Media without dignity

  1. we ned to work on expelling the notions of high expertise of anchors. it appears that these anchors are holding PHDs is all aspects of life. if they are too good then why dont they step into murky waters of politics. i suggest a detailed insight pf profile of all leading anchors, their payrolls, benefits is produced for public.

  2. Rather than substance, creating sensation has become much more important to media.

    Take the case of Pak FM visit to india. …. Most of the media concentrated on her looks, fashion and her personal details rather than the discussions & agreements that happened during her visit.

    But there is a positive side to it. Competition in the media, to create sensation, has made it difficult to hide misdeeds of politicians, businessmen, corruption etc. It also made it difficult for people in high places to escape from law by bribing their way…… eg. Jessica Lal murder in Delhi, shooitng of black bucks in Rajasthan by Salman Khan.

  3. dear Zubeida,
    if only this were a question of things like presentation, nuance, civility and so on; the crude fact is that much of the world's media now is upto its eyelashes in corporate politics and its consequence–sectarian/ideological embroilment in power structures worldwide. In India, for example, a great deal of breast-beating takes place on tv channels about the sins of the media, but they never conclude in any formal or systemic self-criticism or desire for policy reformulation on behalf of the state or media ownerships. The world's media before and after the beginning of neoliberal globalism are wholly different animals.
    Badri Raina, Delhi.

  4. No doubt that in our beloved country, everything is for sell…………… money is much stronger than moral, ethics, dignity and manners, etc……
    Media is playing its role in making the country weak and miserable ……………. and surely this is also the part of the propaganda…..
    There is no solution till the time we are free from the bad influence of foreign interest……

  5. With no effective peer controls in place, sensational reporting has become a norm in our media. The so called 'experts' and some equally naive anchors (or 'know nothings' if you will) on some television channels at times make most damaging and sensational assertions about Pakistan, for which they should be tried for treason. Their statements are often misused by some hostile foreign media in maligning Pakistan.
    Whilst no one will be against a free media with an effective peer control mechanisim in place, no reasonable person will condone the the blatant misuse of such freedom. There are only a handful of jounalists, anchors and the so called 'experts' who pride themselves in spreading sensationalism. My late friend Kaleem Omar had a name for them "the doom and gloom brigade".
    Zubeida Mustafa has so admireably identified the problem, but this is not enough. She is a senior columnist and my recommendation is that she and some other senior media people shoud take the lead and offer a 'road map' to the media fertinity to control this menace.

  6. All over the world the media has change after 9/11. They are no more ethical nor responsible and if someone really do investigation he or she may find out how the world has been misguided about Iraq and Afghanistan by the media. A leading US media even have to say "sorry," to the American people that they were used by the US in the case Wepon of Mass Destruction. A BBC documentary on how the media misguided the world could be cited as the best example. Wire service like AP, Reuters and AFP started using stories with unnamed sources, some rarely used by them. Whether its Wiki or News of the World, unethical journalism is growing day by day. Non professional have more control beside market control. Media Houses will be never sit with the working journalists because they are not ready to give regular jobs, something most important in making journalism more ethical. Some three years back i tried when we organised International Media Summit in Lahore. But the code of ethics agreed by the all the parties failed to get the support of APNS, CPNE and PBA or even the government.

    1. Thank you Mazhar about drawing attention to these past efforts. I had written about it then. Was wondering can nothing be done now? If all journalists join hands to put pressure on the APNS, CPNE and PBA to agree to your code which I think was very good. Why don't you revive the code and start speaking about it again.

  7. You have been giving wake- up to call to the Pakistanis by pointing all serious issues in your writings…Inshallah the day will come when more like-minded people will join you in this mission.
    Kindest Regards,

  8. You are right in your comments about Media. But remember despite all
    that, Media has contributed tremendously in bringing to the fore –
    before the common man – the problems besetting Pakistan. To every
    flower, there is a thorn.

  9. i dont think it is possible to control the media now in pakistan-the
    media especially the tv has become a very important
    phenomenon like in usa in pakistan also-in usa they do not and can
    not control it-so they flood the media with their own point of view or
    some thing else to keep the people's interest from it to their own
    point of view.
    now because of the internet the tv shall soon become useless-we
    shall have to use internet in every way possible-like tweet which
    created the egyptian revolution.
    do you get me.

  10. Dear Zubeida, I think on the whole media is doing a good job and most anchors are fair in their questioning.However,keeping politics aside there are few things to improve the situation.Adverts must be drastically cut.It is not proper to impose them on the public in such profusion.Some adverts are misleading and should not appear.Media should be used for educational purpose as well.I have not come across a single scientific documentary but numerous progrmmes on cooking !

  11. The media cannot mend itself because the people who are running the media are a product of our own society, they are after all from among us only. And look around you carefully – you will find that the concept of civility, ethics and good behaviour has virtually vanished completely.

    We keep blaming our very corrupt leaders all the time – but have you noticed that from the chhabree-wala upwards, virtually everyone is continuously trying to cheat and fleece as much as possible ! Conscience as such has all but ceased to exist in our society – the order of the day is, if you can get away with it – no matter how crooked or unethical it is – GO FOR IT!
    Did you know that Pakistan is the only country where the prices of essential goods goes up during Ramadan – which is supposed to be a HOLY month ! When I was living in Dubai, prices of most such items used to be reduced during Ramadan. Even in India, which is supposed to be a country of idolaters, people who appear to be Muslims by their get up, get special discounts when they go shopping for such essential items during Ramadan – without asking for it !

    So what can you expect from the media people, who are after all the spawn of such a society as ours ?!?!

    You have mentioned “sensationalism” in the media – well, I had once seen an American movie – a few decades ago, in which this TV Channel was dropping very rapidly in the ratings. So some wise guy there came up with the brilliant plan to hire professional gangsters to pull off Bank robberies and because it was the TV Channel people organizing the whole affair, their TV crew and reporters used to be already secretly stationed at the location – hence always managed to cover the incident first-hand before the other TV channel people reached there. Needless to say their ratings went up immediately. Because BAD news is always GOOD news for broadcasting and ratings !
    I totally blame our media for repeatedly running the very atrocious remarks of Zulfiqar Mirza – which is what sparked the terrible violence in the aftermath – causing the death of so many and destruction and arson.
    They should completely avoid showing such completely asinine remarks. But then, who will watch their channels with such interest? Showing all this mayhem is good for the ratings after all – and who cares about the people being killed?!?!

  12. I feel that media in Pakistan particularly the electronic where anchors and comperes in talk shows have assumed the role of power brokers.I think this is not only a dangerous sign but also a well designed strategy conceived by those who are real brokers.

  13. Dear Zubeida,
    A valiant effort to highlight the ills of the Media. I suppose most of us have found once in a while the excesses of the media hard to bear. However this does not constitute any misdeed by the media.

    What you suggest is , if you forgive me, is only whistling in the wind. Where a lot of money is to be made voluntary codes do not work. In the UK a similar restraint (as you suggest) was put on the print Media in the form of the editors forum in the hope that it should keep the publications on the straight and narrow. It did not work.

    The things that can work are not tried, only many of those who have the power are in the pocket of the Media.

    It is the duty of the government of the nation to frame laws to control such excesses which brings media to this pass.
    No restriction on the media can be accepted. Period. Media must be free under the law. No law should stop any truthful expose from publication only if that is in the public interest. The Court s of the Law should only be the final arbitrator. The courts should be accessible to all.

    However there are things which no person in the country can do. You should not kill another person: How do the government stop it? Make laws and let the Courts decide the matter, if someone has crossed the line.
    So legislation is the way to go.

    Falsehood of reporting must be punished to the extent it caused any harm.
    Preaching hatred against any section of the society should be against the law.
    The laws of the land should cover all aspects where the media is seen to be reaching beyond an individuals remit. Media like the companies are persons in law, if they do wrong they should be punished as any other individuals.

    The owners of the newspapers should be known and should be registered under law. Only the fit and proper person should have this registration. The law should decide who is a fit person, and the law should determine if the person in question is in actual fact owns the newspaper.

    It is no rocket science, a couple of lawyers can formulate such bills to move in the lawmaking forum, it would not be inventing something new, it may require one to look at many examples in the free societies.

    However the question remains. Would the politicians want to put the media right or keep looking at the personal political advantage as did the politicians in the UK.

    In the USA the laws are different but the biggest bug bearer is the proportion of bias. It can be taken care of if the law requires that the reporting should be balanced and the ownership of the media is not allowed to crease more than a certain percentage in one hand.

    First of all think about getting the population to learn to read . If a proper understanding of issues is desirable then look at the education system, do you want a Saudi style system to make sure that nobody thinks different than the rulers, then the Pakistan education is OK, otherwise teach the young to ask question in stead of accepting whatever is dished out.

  14. Due to unrest in Qasba and Kati Pahari between 5 and 10 July 2011 more than 150 people have died. This is the official figure though unofficially it is often said that the dead exceed 200. Six hundred people have been wounded of which 21 to 30are seriously injured.

    Four government schools have been closed down while another 20 private, semi private or welfare schools have also become non-functional as teachers have stopped coming to work. Schools are not open also because of the uncertainty in law and order situation. Community schools were charging 3 to 400 rupees as monthly fee which parents are now not in a position to pay. Therefore, our figure of affected children who could not go to pre-primary, primary or lower secondary schools is 30,000. Education is one way of teaching these children how to refrain from violence but if education to these children is not guaranteed, they would add to the already tense situation. This is a poor community with local literacy rate standing only at seven percent. In this situation we, the civil society organizations, should be more sensitive towards resolving the situation. Despite announcements to the contrary, schools in the area were not open on August 1. Teachers are now being invited from neighbourhoods but they are not cheap and the community cannot afford them.

    Things to do:
    • Local philanthropy should come up to help
    • Government schools should be opened
    • Voluntary teachers should come to help the community
    • Government school costs more than 1,500 rupees per child per month, and the total amount for the area is between 20 and 22,000 rupees. This is an amount local philanthropy can afford.
    • Community schools are low cost spending 300 rupees on each of the 10,000 children of the area.

    Their contact details:
    Name: Bright Educational Society
    Contact persons: Abdul Waheed,
    Address:ST-1114, Islamia Colony No.1, Karachi 75800
    Phones: 0092 300 925 1836
    Bank: The Bank of Khyber, S.I.T.E. Branch, Karachi, Pakistan. Branch Code No. 28 Account Title: Bright Educational Society Account Number: 1744-3
    Income Tax Exemption: CIT/COS-V/SO-1/2005-05/2179

  15. We are trying to produce a “media credibility index” with a section on Pakistan. It would be good to have specific current examples of Pakistan’s media problems so we could see what you mean.

  16. Bashing the media is a great new sport (is it really that new?), but we forget that we, the consumers, are in part responsible for the media that we consume. It has become or is becoming a consumer industry like any other. They serve us what we want. Sensation, scandal, sex: they all sell. And WE buy. When we turn off the TV set, change channels, stop buying, ‘they’ will notice. We have a part in bringing about the change that we want. And we must support the journalists and the journalism that stands out for certain ethical standards.

  17. I agree with Zubeida Mustafa's suggestions….& wish that other professions would also do their own soul-searching & come up with ethical codes of conduct!

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