Electronic Media or for that matter print media is neither benign or bane by itself. The effect lies in the way it is used. If used to, exploit it can result in harm and destruction of highest magnitude. If used to inform and spread knowledge without bias it can immensely help in building a nation.
The case in point is Electronic Media of Pakistan. No meaningful discussion, however, is possible without briefly reviewing history of its birth and present position of strength.
Though birth this media can be traced back to President Ayub’s period. It emerged in its present form in the period of President Pervaiz Musharraf. No matter, what the present Media Mughals proclaim or anti Musharraf Anchors say, this media was allowed absolute freedom under Musharraf. Both, Dictators or not, were highly forward looking individuals striving to take the country on the path of progress and prosperity. President Zia another so called Dictator had a regressive attitude and suppressed all forward looking movements. All three of them had high and low points during their administration but that is not presently under discussion.
Presently the aim is to examine their contribution to growth or suppression of Electronic Media. Initially Electronic Media was contributing in the field of entertainment only. News however was controlled as there was one operating channel which was Government owned. It never the less produced excellent entertainment. In Zia’s period restrictions were placed also on entertainment segment, in the name of modesty, and Islamic values particularly on Television plays.
A paradox existed as there were no restrictions on the films being shown on wide screen in Pakistan. Zia’s personal penchant for Indian Movies is well known. It was in Musharraf’s period that complete freedom was allowed to this media which resulted in a mushroom growth of television channels.
The speed with which the information travels through electronic media is a major factor which has contributed in making this world into a global village. Provision, of correct, un-tempered and unbiased Information, live on real time basis, is the bedrock on which the whole edifice of this media is built, all over the world. Mindful of this importance Musharraf unshackled electronic media in Pakistan.
With hind sight it was a misjudgment. The premise of self regulation was a mistake. It has resulted in the present chaos which has made it a very difficult task to regulate the Goliath. Genie is out of the bottle. Each channel according to its own commercial and other interests sets the limits on what is to be shown, with scant regard to what is good for the nation. Some evolve their own definition of national interest to suit their interests.
This puts an onerous responsibility on those who are associated with electronic media. The responsibility devolves not only on the field reporters but all concerned including owners of television channels as commercial interests are involved. If used judiciously this media is benign and can play a significant role in nation building conversely it can do irreparable harm unraveling the very fabric of the nation.
Obviously Channel Owner has supreme say in all matters pertaining to tone, tenor o f what is presented on his channel. Having no national policy to deter he commands an unrestricted power to propagate his own whims and caprices such as his provincial, sectarian/parochial leanings, tribal, party affiliations or outright personal rivalry which automatically inhibit his channels policy thus producing adverse impact of the media on national well-being.
Though they make efforts to camouflage their bias by various means however slants remains sectarian/parochial leanings, tribal, party abundantly clear to a discerning individuals. This stranglehold is contributing towards injurious and uncalled for effects of the media which otherwise could have been immensely beneficial in nation building. This outright control has to be restricted because freedom of expression or to do business cannot and should not be exercised if it hurts someone else’s freedom.
The public face of all Television channels are the anchors, news casters and field reporters. Barring a few anchors all of them are under immense pressure of channel owners who control their bread and butter. Therefore the need is to examine performance related difficulties experienced by individuals of each Public Face group so that a clear picture emerges of hindrances that have resulted in malfunction of the fourth pillar of state.
Field Reporters These are the Reporters who along with a Camera man reach, or are on the spot, where something news worthy has occurred or may occur. They transmit eye witness account which is transmitted as Breaking News by the concerned channel. Here is the crux. The channel wants to cover these occurrences and be ahead of all other channels.
Obviously it puts extreme pressure on the reporter and the camera man as is evident from the gushy speech, while describing the particular event, by majority of reporters. The Camera man is unable to decide what needs to be shown and takes shots which impinge upon the national security. Attack on Mehran and Kamra Bases are prime examples of irresponsible video reporting. Besides in their enthusiasm the reporters harass those who are busy trying to deal or contain the impact of the occurrence, by asking irrelevant questions in an accusing tone. They try to put cart before the horse by asking, What, Why, even before the situation is fully under control. These videos are transmitted live as breaking news. It creates adverse effect and despondency in public psyche without the benefit of analysis and manifestation of sequence of events.
Besides having no training in unbiased analysis or mass communication and pressure of keeping their job intact the reporter becomes psychologically tuned to the requirement of their pay masters. They are therefore the initial impediment in correct and unbiased coverage.
These are the individuals who present the news on Television. Though they are not entirely innocent but latitude should be given as their presentation is scripted. However when they have to make an impromptu addition they also cross the limits of unbiased reporting. Their constraint includes the question of bread and butter. They are mostly educationally qualified graduates in political Science or mass communications but not trained in nuances of news presentation and have to tow the lines of channels self serving policy and their News Director. However they do not make the presentation with a poker face and smirk belies their impartiality. Their impromptu remarks also manifest their bias, it may be personal or management induced.
These are the individuals who conduct talk shows on various issues confronting the nation. They also make solo presentations. Their personal popularity and presentations have a direct impact on the Channel’s rating and commercial gains. Independence or otherwise of this breed makes all the difference between what is good for the country and what will harm its wellbeing. These individuals are usually well educated and normally apply their own intellect in presentations and talk shows that they conduct.
Unfortunately they also are divided on the basis of political, religious, sectarian/parochial, tribal and party affiliations. This bias impacts their thinking and impedes the presentation of facts and reality. They come in different shades and hues. Some would like to thrust their views down the throat others would use cockeyed logic to prove their contention. There are still others who believe in inviting political rivals for discussions and make them indulge in verbally fight.
In an effort to prove their contention rivals do not even listening to each other’s arguments and target personalities instead of issues. Such anchors side with those who subscribe to their own believes, whims and caprices. In fact while selecting participants for the talk show they prefer higher number people who subscribe to their ideas. They negate the whole purpose of the debate as in such ascenario it becomes impossible for the nation to get a true picture and the people to arrive on their own conclusion. In fact need of the hour is restructuring of these shows. It is likely to bring a sea change if talk shows are conducted on burning issues by inviting like minded people in each show separately and are made to talk on issues rather than personalities.
Of one course there are anchors like P.J.Mir, Mubashar Lucman, Rana Mubashar, Nasim Zehra and to an extent Najam Sethi who present a balanced view and analysis to let the audience form their own opinion.
Some channels conduct field surveys. The anchors go out in field to obtain Public Opinion. This is a good device but it does not produce desired results. The results are hampered and unreliable because of:-
Level of general education in masses,
Lack of understanding the topic being surveyed,
In built desire to talk against anyone who is in power,
Exuberance that results from being Television,
These surveys need to be restructured for obtaining desired results.
In conclusion it can be safely deduced that the Electronic Media instead of helping resolution of National Issues is causing insurmountable hurdles. To make this media really benign evolving a comprehensive Code of Conduct, to be adhered by all channels is essential. Culture of self evaluations should be developed. Each channel must have an internal body to evaluate and ensure that the channel performs with in these bounds.
An independent body to oversee any disputes should be formed having representatives from media, government and acknowledged independent minded public figures. Obviously implementation is difficult. In the present chaos that country is facing it is any body’s guess if such reforms can be implemented.