TV, in focus

January 9, 2022

TV, in focus

Over the last few years, the explosion of news TV channels has meant that viewers receive a plethora of news and information. The rapidly changing world of mass media and the competitive culture have created an atmosphere where media professionals can easily lose sight of the importance of media ethics. This media revolution has thus created ethical tensions and social responsibility of news media is being questioned. Proponents of democracy want to see the media functioning well and free from political muzzling and economic pressures. They propose self-regulation and self-accountability to ensure quality control and ethical journalism so that the media can perform its important role for the society.

Given the furious pace at which the media scene is evolving, the question arises whether our media professionals are being trained in view of the new possibilities, challenges and ethical imperatives? The News on Sunday (TNS) spoke to prominent media professionals for their insights.

TV, in focus

Muhammad Usman

Muhammad Usman is a seasoned journalist and

the current news director of Neo News. He also hosts

Harf-i-Raaz, a political talk show

TNS: Why may a news channel find it absolutely necessary to air distressing visuals despite knowing that it can be harmful to viewers?

Muhammad Usman (MU): Television is a visual medium. Therefore, videos, footage, and images are essential the presentation. They also establish the accuracy of a story. The practice is not limited to the local market; international media organisations do the same. When they have disturbing visuals/ images, they run a blurred version. The audience will not pay any attention to a story if it does not have the visuals/ images, or they will dismiss it as fake news.

TNS: Don’t you think that this practice may compromise ethical journalism?

MU: No. Ethics demand that your story be factual. Media laws and regulations allow airing of all kinds of content in a decent way.

TNS: Do you think the staff working in newsrooms are suitably trained to handle graphic content to ensure decent packaging?

MU: Yes, they are. Since many news channels have purchased landing space in the United Kingdom, the workers are very cautious in terms of language they use and airing visuals/ images that might violate the rules and regulations of that country. These channels display the PG signs on screen if the content carries images that may be inappropriate for children.

TNS: Why is this PG sign not displayed in Pakistan?

MU: Some leading news channels have started this practice. Others are still to follow. They must.

TV, in focus

Hasnain Nafay

Hasnain Nafay has vast experience in news production and programming. He is currently a senior producer at ARY News

TNS: Current affairs programmes usually differ in content, tone and presentation style from news bulletins. Nonetheless, there is hardly any difference when it comes to airing visuals/ images about a story that has questionable or graphic content in it?

Hasnain Nafay (HN): There are two perspectives. First, electronic media is about visuals and highly reliant on visuals, live streaming and strong images to authenticate a story. Given the stiff competition and the race for better ratings, most news channels cannot afford to miss a story that carries strong footage. The standards are self-established by the media organisations and those in charge. Of course, ethical norms demand that any story that can harm the social fabric be assessed accordingly. There can always be other ways to keep the public informed.

TNS: Do you think producers and their production teams are well trained to create innovative ways to tell a story?

HN: A rat race between channels is the main reason behind compromising quality journalism. The compulsion to try to beat the competition to the screen is another reason media professionals do not get the opportunity to be innovative. The ‘fake news’ era in mainstream media has contributed nothing but it has made media professionals cautious.

TV, in focus

Iram Ghani

Iram Ghani is head of the central assignment desk

(news gathering/input department) at the Express News

TNS: There is a general perception that media professionals are either insensitive or ill trained when it comes to the subject of handling distressing visuals. Do you agree?

Iram Ghani (IG): This perception is neither one hundred percent factual nor entirely incorrect. Media professionals are humans with feelings and emotions, yet, most of them try to apply the ‘rules of detachment’ in deciding what should go on air and what should not. Measuring how successful they are in applying this rule is very difficult. Sometimes, a newsroom lacks time or the option to recheck the authenticity of a news piece as competitors are already airing the same news item/ image/ video.

TNS: Does this mean that there is no reliable mechanism of fact-checking before airing a news item even in large media outlets?

IG: Some media houses with a large human resource base are able to stop many though not hundred percent unethical stuff and verify reports from multiple sources. However, small media organisations that are struggling to capture viewership, sometimes, overlook the impact of unethical stuff.

TNS: Do you think media persons sitting in newsrooms with the authority to air or stop news items are trained in a satisfactory manner to evaluate the repercussions of airing the content for the society?

IG: All the people sitting in newsrooms are educated; most of them have degrees in journalism/ mass communication. Nevertheless, it is very hard to say if they are capable of evaluating the outcome of the stuff being aired. The vivacious social media has pushed them into a situation where, sometimes, due to time constraints they are unable to decide what is to be aired and how it is to be presented on mainstream media. This confusion ultimately compromises the quality of the content. Some media organisations have yet to fully realise this challenge.

TNS: Sometimes, news channels air visuals/ images of child convicts, videos of rape cases with some blurring; names of victims of sexual crimes; visuals/ images of bomb blasts and blood. Do media professionals have adequate knowledge of legal provisions against airing/ showing such images or visuals and naming victims?

IG: Generally, media professionals understand what is ethical reporting and what is not. Informal on the job training is always in process as senior colleagues educate their subordinates, pointing out what is ethically right and what is wrong. Formal training workshops are arranged occasionally and mostly cover laws and regulations meant to ensure quality journalism.

TV, in focus

Mubasher Bukhari

Mubasher Bukhari is a  journalist, teacher, writer, and executive editor of

fortnightly Truth Tracker. He is also the president of Media Foundation 360

The News on Sunday (TNS): The basic principle of ethical news reporting is presenting the information accurately and journalists should be careful to verify the facts before they report them. Do you think this ethical norm is always respected in news reporting?

Mubasher Bukhari (MB): Unfortunately, this is an era of rampant disinformation, misinformation and fake news for both journalists and their audience. Social media currently has the most effective role in promoting a culture of disinformation, with an immense influence on mainstream reporting. Sadly, some media professionals are not in the habit of practicing the ‘code of verification’ in developing their stories. Some of them are not equipped to handle this outburst of fake news and disinformation. In the present era, journalists must be trained to develop an attitude of thinking about information disorder, formats of misinformation and disinformation.

TNS: What types of practices should a journalist follow to counter disinformation, misinformation, and mal-information?

MB: Professional standards in journalism have changed to assess the accuracy of news content. Ever better fact-checking techniques are being adopted by international media organisations to understand and assess accuracy of the news in a different way. This offers an actual opportunity to improve the quality of news and protection of the right to receive accurate information. Proper attribution is necessary for the credibility of any news item. It is essential that the audience know where the information in a story comes from.

TV, in focus