Walking a tightrope

August 9, 2020

Veteran journalists share concerns about challenges to journalism and more

A shrinking media

Pakistan is in the grip of an existential crisis spanning three major dimensions: muddled constitutional governance, struggling economy and tumbling social indicators. The top of the facade is characterised by an authoritarian calm while the bottom is a cauldron of unease. Media bears the unpleasant responsibility of exposing the untenable state of the rickety structure and thus, invites the wrath of those wielding power.

 A mix of structural strangulation, invisible censorship and outright intimidation has been unleashed against the media and journalists over the past few years. The government is overtly hostile towards media and refuses to acknowledge its inalienable role in a democratic dispensation. While political institutions have gradually conceded their space, the judiciary has taken a fair amount of flak and the administration is near dysfunctional, the media is the only segment of the polity still showing signs of life. However, the prospects are not rosy as a sustained campaign is under way to malign the media as an institution. Collaborative media is enjoying a protective shield. A manipulated public opinion is largely unwilling to shed its shell of inward-looking self-deception. Media is shrinking in this country; media men are unsafe and the pen is too often pawned to convenient sloganeering.

-Wajahat Masood

Journalist, teacher and human rights activist

Revising the tenets of journalism

Teaching journalism at colleges in the US over the last five years has made me revisit and revise the tenets of journalism, reporting and editing experience I gained over the last three decades. I am still learning. But there are some basic rules I would like to share not just with journalists but all those with social media accounts.

Before reporting/posting on any issue, follow the two-source confirmation rule – verify the information from at least two independent sources, not from those with stakes in the matter. Second, say no to anonymous sources. Exceptions regarding both are at the discretion of the editor, who must be satisfied about the veracity of the sources even if they have to be published as anonymous due to security reasons.

Things are bad enough for vulnerable communities everywhere, especially in Pakistan. The information doesn’t need to be sensationalised. Focus on facts and issues, not individuals and personalities. Publishing unverified stories detracts from the credibility of real stories and makes it worse for those affected and those working to help them.

When it comes to social media, do not post immediately when feeling triggered, angry or outraged. Process the information before posting your views, rather than knee-jerk reactions, finger-pointing or using the language of blame or resorting to personal attacks or abuse.

It’s important to be civil and respectful even if you don’t agree with someone. Just because they were rude or disrespectful doesn’t mean you should descend to that level. The world needs more kindness and compassion, and verified information, now more than ever. We can all play our part in this.

As one of my students said after a discussion on these principles, ‘Everyone should think like a journalist’.

-Beena Sarwar

Journalist, teacher and filmmaker

Walking a tightrope