With malice to some

October 11, 2015

Absence of restraint and accountability in Pakistani media

With malice to some

Dear All,

It’s amazing how very easy it is to spread rumours in societies where the legal system does not deal effectively with issues like libel, slander or falsification. In societies where people refuse to think rationally and where the press is not regulated or punished for journalistic crimes (like fabricating quotes, using stories placed by security agencies, not verifying or even examining claims made in reports, not examining provenance, not assessing the news value of a story etc), the task of destruction by media becomes super easy.

All you need really is a news outlet and a bit of agency support or, if you don’t have support, you just need the ability to be a spineless and easily intimidated news op. This way you can easily further various devious agendas, including your own. You can even make a lot of money. And you can ensure you are not on the hit list of various mafias and spinster groups, both official and unofficial, and thus you can stay alive.

Spreading rumours is of course very easy: just repeat something in as many drawing rooms and gatherings as possible, and then get something printed in a newspaper or broadcast on TV ‘news’. You don’t really need to respond to any rejoinders, clarifications, denials or legal notices because you just need to do the damage through insinuation. It used to be that people would exclaim something must be true "because it was in the newspaper" and now many people will say the same of television news in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, veracity is mostly not a consideration, and there is a lot of what is now known technically as ‘briefing against’.

But what remains truly mind-boggling in Pakistan is the complete lack of media accountability. The media has still not been able to enforce a proper code of conduct or create a credible organisation/institution to monitor and castigate journalists and media houses. A family member who was a minister in the interim government two years ago was surprised to find himself being quoted in a report in a leading business daily. He was surprised because he had never spoken to the reporter yet the reporter had attributed words to him -- within quotation marks.

When contacted personally, the owner of the media house was strangely unperturbed to hear of this and was not even embarrassed; he just said "speak to the reporter directly". The reporter admitted he had not spoken to the minister, but then (even more surreal) told him "sir main samjha aap khush ho jayein gay" (I thought you’d be pleased).

Does this qualify as incompetence or dishonesty or just creative writing? Why would an editor or an owner be so unperturbed by such unprofessional and unethical behaviour? Yes, journalists operate under a lot of pressures -- threats from militant and political groups, intimidation by intelligence agencies and the deep state, financial problems -- yet surely the aim of journalism is more than just mere survival?

The epitome of unethical behaviour is to be seen in tv ‘current affairs’ programmes in which celebrity hosts pretend to be exposing huge scams or scandals when often they are just knocking down people or companies or political parties who are annoying to them or their masters. Anybody threatening for example, the water or land mafia, could be neutralised in this way. Legal action? Yes, welcome to a decade of thankless legislation if that’s what you want.

The irony is that the media then benefits from these malicious, uncorrected, stories because then companies (if not individuals) resort to publishing huge ads in various papers outlining their stance. So it’s the victims who have to pay -- and still nobody believes them!!!

Ah… the power of the media.

Best wishes