Journalism Ethics in Pakistan


What the media is doing wrong

From the raging wars of the past to the corporate boardrooms of the 21st century, the ability to control the mass media to disseminate information has always given triumph to powerful media empires, shaping the very nature of media discourse in Pakistan and the wider world. The media as an industry faces several challenges that are social, legal, political and commercial in nature and as the awareness of audience’s increases, media practitioners are under greater scrutiny as they are expected to balance the demands of their trade whilst remaining within the confines of ethics. This, however doesn’t mean that a mere sounding of caution would rectify the balance and therefore certain practices must be adopted that would provide an enabling environment for ethical conduct to exist.

In recent years, the surge in mass-mediated communication in the country has meant that the impact of media in shaping public opinion, culture and discourse has also increased. For the purpose of discussion, it becomes crucial to understand that by and large, the media plays two roles that are underpinned by the functionalist and conflict perspective.

The functionalist theory attempts to explain social institutions as a collective means to meet individual and social needs. Each element in society is entwined with the other, held together by social consensus and cohesion in which members consciously work together to achieve social stability and societal prosperity to acknowledge individual needs. Here, the media’s function can be seen as a means of socialization, enforcing social norms and traditions, conferral of status, consumption promotion and the surveillance and distribution of information. However, what constitutes as a “fact”? And who is portrayed positively or negatively? This is defined by the media for its audiences, generally reflecting the values and orientation of decision makers within it.

Conflict theorists subsume the propaganda model, emphasizing that the media only tends to reinforce the ideological positions of those in power. Therefore, so much of the essence of today’s mainstream media is not information but the subtle expression of control which forces lower income classes and minority populations to serve the interests of bureaucracies.

Correspondingly, the current state of media in Pakistan is dismal where it’s most fundamental problem lies in treating news as a commodity rather than as a means of social good. Media groups and a number of television channels give overriding considerations to their business interests and have contrived unique methods of attracting viewership. As advertisements and commercials compromise the majority of viewer’s exposure, television content is also skewed where media reports are blended with misrepresentations, irrelevance, biasness and sensationalism.

Now whilst this phenomenon is largely present in most parts of the world, Pakistani media is particularly skillful in lightening critical issues through crudely entertaining comical renditions. This common practice allows journalists to use fancy words, metaphors, proverbs, and emotionally-charged arguments, continuously aimed at demonizing sensitive societal institutions of governance which leads to a tunneled sense of vision. Now one might say that the media is performing a truth-telling role by exposing corruption which is a good thing however it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the bulk of media themes in Pakistan have an overpowering emphasis on elements of fear, political negativity, violence, vengeance, retaliation, and cultural differences which cause a high level of emotional trauma, threatening the very moral fiber, public esteem and social order of our society.

The commodity concept also pushes TV journalists to engage in uncultured behavior which goes against media etiquettes that are required of open argumentation. The use of derogatory language, slander and mockery leaves no room for civilized discussions, where each individual by way of their expert knowledge has the right to express their views. Hence a culture of harassment is normalized which completely side-tracks the audience with ill-informed discussions and personal attacks. In recent years various individuals have been victim to media sensationalism, not because of their professional expertise but a fixation over their personal lives, diminishing their credibility.

Not only that, but for decades, Pakistani media has been highly populated by Indian television serials (as opposed to its own), which promote Indian customs, traditions, religion, and culture. Now although it may be great for business and cross cultural exchange, it doesn’t exactly do good to promote our core values and national identity, therefore it’s not a surprise when individuals are more educated regarding Indian traditions than their own.

We often flaunt our temporary empathy and desensitization in the glossy garb of resilience however, how outraged and compelled really in times of national crises? Does the media realize that through its narcotizing dysfunction, it has created an emotionally transient nation?

The truth is, Pakistan is such a talented country where individuals are hardworking, intelligent and passionate about a variety of fields, however, much of the country and wider world is left in the darkness about that. We must ask whether it is justified to feed half-baked information to the public. This is because a great deal of insensitivity is used to address highly fragile issues. The answer to many such questions requires a considerable amount of introspection and high degree of ethical responsibility to channel energy into positive outcomes for wider social stability and cohesion.

is a student activist who supports peaceful civilization coexistence and multiculturalism. She yearns for a world without wmd's, war and terrorism and is about to complete a Marketing and Communications degree. She can be reached at @Maria_Zfr.

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