"Ethical compass: Sensitivity to ethical land mines that often litter the field of live breaking news – unconfirmed information, graphic video, words that potentially panic, endanger public safety or security or words that add pain to already traumatised victims and those who care about them”
— Jill Geysler
Between the public and the state, the medium of communication plays a pivotal role. Known to be able to affect public opinion, all forms of media are expected to demonstrate a high level of knowledge, information and, above all, extreme responsibility.
Of course these rules are applicable to all types of media in any country of the world but the electronic media comprising radio and television are supposed to reflect them with the most sensitivity because they are very easily accessible to all classes of society, which includes the literate and the illiterate, the knowledgeable and the ignorant.
These days, compared to the written words in the print media, programmes on entertainment, news and discussions offered on various television channels prove more effective in moulding and forming the nation’s opinion. People are generally gullible and quick to believe whatever is being said or shown, obviously on the ground that it is all truth and nothing but the truth. After all, how many among us actually have the time or energy to check the veracity of any statement being uttered by anyone who has the opportunity to appear on such forums and address the public.
While it requires much courage to show one’s face on such a platform, it entails even greater nerves to talk authentically about any person without confirming the real facts. In other words, it hardly takes a few seconds to build or destroy anyone’s reputation by using information gleaned from prejudicially tainted sources.
Whether words are put in writing or orally uttered, both contemplate a commitment on the part of the writer and the speaker that whatever has been revealed is based on certainty and would be stood by if challenged and if proved wrong would be subject to clarification and/or public apology. Of course this does not mitigate the damage but if nothing else, it does go to establish that everything being broadcast or telecast is not to be believed.
Whether they admit it or not, the media has the greatest potential to turn the tide of history and, consequently, nations. A loose comment or wrong information can ignite a spark that may result in irredeemable consequences or, conversely, a positive approach can convert a volatile situation into a peaceful scenario. This statement cannot be seen in a better perspective than against the present times where no words are minced to describe, debate, and comment on anything that goes on anywhere in the world in general and Pakistan, in particular.
The Pakistani media can be seen working in top gear on all fronts whether it relates to dramatic compositions or verbal battles between political rivals; a sophisticated talk show or a comedy play. A few decades back, those who ruled the people’s hearts usually belonged to the silver screen so the matinee idols were the ones who inspired the young ones to act and behave like them. However, today, our television anchors have taken over as the new breed of celebrities destined to influence the public with their looks, oratory and intellectual acumen. Some are worshipped and others are detested but the fact remains that there exists a peculiar relationship between the audience and these anchors.
Rapid popularity and high monetary returns have now caught the attention of the younger generation towards journalism as an attractive profession which has the capability of having marked sway over others, provides opportunities to talk directly to those who matter in the land and who are hardly available to those who vote them into power, allows access to those places that are beyond the reach of the common man and of course, who can deny the glitter and glamour that comes with along this package.
With such a high magnitude of attention, the degree of responsibility also intensifies to a point that all leading anchors need to do their homework thoroughly, verify information provided by their sources, ascertain that whatever they have to tell their audience about anyone is confirmed by the person in question; before they confidently appear on the screen for public transmission. A slight misinformation or untruth is capable of defamation which in civilised countries is a cognizable offence leading to heavy punitive punishments.
One such incident that was rather shocking was when one leading, very popular and mature anchor talked loosely about a young man heading the country’s most notable institution, a designation the said young man enjoys purely on merit because of his enviable education and sound capabilities. Undoubtedly, Pakistan suffers from the reputation of being a country where nepotism is preferred over merit and most of the prized postings are enjoyed because of close connections but this does not mean that one has the authority of giving sweeping statements about simply anyone. Had this anchor taken the trouble of cross-verifying his information he would have discovered that someone who abandoned extremely promising and highly-paying career opportunities in the United States only to serve his own country in return for peanuts did not deserve this treatment.
In this case, allegations of recruitment and promotions because of being a relative of the top-notch of the institution is absolutely baseless since he was working at a lower post than deserved, and was not rewarded until his relative retired and another chairman (disconnected person) came to take his place. Even today, in his present designation since February 2015, he has yet to receive his salary.
One wonders how he has been running his household all this while! Would this anchor care to find out? Can he imagine the hurt that he inadvertently or purposely inflicted on this person, his family and well-wishers by attributing such false things to him? Perhaps not, as apparently no training is imparted to journalists with respect to sensitivity on issues regarding someone’s repute.
It’s no surprise that Pakistan is suffering from a crisis of brain drain wherein those who have the capacity to perform well and who have the ability to lead this country towards progress are gradually moving towards greener pastures outside where their talents are acclaimed and there is no fear of being condemned and that too, unheard.
With this kind of uncouth atmosphere prevailing in Pakistan, who would want to claim ownership of the country? When one’s abilities are totally ignored by persons whose words are taken as credible and just because they have sympathetic leanings towards certain political elements, can easily hurl allegations on one’s integrity, who would want to do any good for this country?
In our eagerness to please our political masters, are we by any chance, discouraging rule of law and merit? It’s about time we contemplated, pondered over and thought before making such statements just in case we are compelled to later eat our own words.
The writer, a tax lawyer, is a visitingprofessor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).
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