Earlier today, the Express Tribune announced via their website and newspaper that retired Justice Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, a former Law Minister, Attorney General and Governor of Sindh would be the newspaper’s inaugural ombudsman. According to the announcement, the highly respected constitutional expert will “act as arbitrator” and as a link between the newspaper and its readership to promote accurate, fair and balanced reporting.
The appointment comes at a time where the role of the media and media coverage has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism. Following the recent “media explosion” which witnessed the launching of dozens of private media outlets of all mediums, many have complained that media standards, accuracy and accountability have failed grow with the number of media outlets. Indeed, two weeks ago the country was (once again) thrown into frenzy with after TV channels aired rumors that the government was considering the ouster of the judiciary and triggered a firm response from the judiciary.
Unfortunately, in such a competitive market and with a twenty-four hour news cycle, the urge to be the first to break the news – even if it is unverified – as well as the desire to sensationalize can be all too tempting. At the end of the day, news organization across the world and especially those operating in a new mediascape, like those in Pakistan, are fighting for profits and ratings, the pursuit of which often threaten fair, balanced and accurate reporting.
The Express Tribune’s appointment of Justice Ebrahim is a welcome example of steps media networks can take to address the dilemma. A highly-respected and neutral outsider can go a long way in putting their coverage in perspective and providing an outlet for readers to address their concerns.
While setting up this institution is an important step for the Pakistani media establishment, its effectiveness will have to be determined in the days to come, once it becomes more clear what the scope and power of a Pakistani media ombudsman will be.