Who Will Keep Our Media Honest?

Posted on November 11, 2008
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Society, TV, Movies & Theatre
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Aziz Akhmad

While I am writing this, a young, attractive woman appears on the TV screen, on a Pakistani channel, her head partially covered in a headscarf and her wide eyes dyed in kohl. She looks into the camera and delivers the following message in Urdu to promote her own talk show:

”Khabar woh jo sachi, tabsara who jo khara, tajzia who jo haqeeqat ke qareeb-tar …” Roughly translated it would be: We present news that is true and views that are sound and based on facts …

How one wishes this were true!

While the number of newspapers and news channels in Pakistan has vastly increased, as has their reach, thanks to the Internet and satellite communication, sadly, however, the quality of their reporting and commentary has not.

For example, a widely read columnist, writing for a leading Urdu daily, made the revelation that President Bush had recently threatened the US Congress with martial law if it did not approve the $700 billion bailout package for American banks that Bush had proposed in an effort to overcome the current financial crisis. Not only that, the columnist added, the troops were deployed in several American cities to make the threat real.

Actually, when I read this, I looked out of the window of my apartment, in New York, where I presently live, to see if there were any troops on the streets. The only people I could see, in uniform, were the police and postal workers, doing their routine beats. And this is how it has been for as long as I can remember.

Since no one questioned the columnist’s claim, he repeated it a few days later, on a TV talk show. Surprisingly, neither the host of the show nor any of the participants in the program challenged the claim.

George Bush may not be widely known for intellect, but he understands this much that if threatened the Congress with martial law, Americans would simply laugh him out of the White House, even before the new president moves in.

I would have laughed off this comment, too, had I not known that the writer was not only a leading columnist and commentator but was once the speechwriter for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Vying for readership and audiences, and the consequent revenues, the media increasingly tends to sensationalize news; personal opinions and biases are presented as news; commentators state inferences and perceptions as facts, often peddle half-baked ideas and folklore as received truths. “Renowned” journalists quote rumors as evidence and think nothing of slander.

A talk show host of another leading channel, a doctor someone or the other, while discussing the history of American elections and past presidents, pulled this rabbit out of his hat. He said that the Jews in America had, under a well thought out plan, damaged the US economy in the late 1950’s until John F Kennedy got elected and turned the economy around. Hello! Jews working against the American economy? I wonder what books this doctor must have been reading, if he has been reading anything at all.

Another columnist of a Lahore-based Urdu daily, who also hosts a talk show on a news channel owned by the same paper, and who usually wears a look of certitude that can either come from arrogance or ignorance, employs a different technique to deliver his op-ed lectures. He usually starts with a story or a parable, then weaves the story into the political topic he wants to discuss, and reaches a conclusion of his choice – not infrequently, a slander.

It may be a good technique to hold the attention of the reader or the audience except that the stories of this columnist are almost always mythical. And so are his conclusions. One wouldn’t mind, though, reading or listening to mythical stories, but there is a limit to how far one can stretch his or her imagination – or how much slander one can stomach.

In a recent column, he tells what reads like a cock and bull story about “red chimpanzees,” who are supposed to have lived along with humans in some dreamland in the Middle East. According to the tale, the chimpanzees became friends with the king, eventually setting the king’s palace on fire, which spread and destroyed the whole city, and eventually the whole kingdom.

Having told the story, the columnist then launches a vicious attack on a prominent Lahore-based editor of an English newspaper, comparing him with the red chimpanzees of the story and suggesting that he and people like him would destroy Pakistan.

I don’t know what prompted this attack. Perhaps, business jealousy, a personal grudge, or perhaps contempt for opposing socio-political views? The viciousness of the attack and the nature of unsubstantiated accusations leaves one breathless. And, it certainly does not enhance the credibility of this particular newspaper. Here is what he wrote about the editor (translation and paraphrasing is mine):

“This man is a “mafia lord” (sic) of a Lahore NGO who had achieved fame, back in 1997, while touring India, by maligning Islam and denigrating the Ideology of Pakistan. He has been receiving funds from India and America for a long time. He has weird interests and hobbies, which include keeping dogs as pets, usually a dirty breed of dogs; makes fun of Islamic rituals such as prayer, fasting and beards; holds drink and dance parties; and receives heavy funds from America and India.”

Wow!!! One wonders why the journalist is not in a court of law.

With the current state of economy, and the investment in the country drying up, soon the advertising revenues for the media will start drying up, too. Maybe, it is an opportunity for the media to do a bit of introspection and try to regulate itself.

Otherwise it can go the same route as most of the unregulated businesses around the world have: Boom, bubble and bust!

Note: This article was published in The News of November 10, 2008.

40 responses to “Who Will Keep Our Media Honest?”

  1. Khuram says:

    It has been over two years now since you wrote this piece and I qouted Khalil Gibran.Nothing has changed.Media refuses to grow up.We have an undesirable ability to corrupt things,sadly.You would’nt know what we did to cell phones.Its a nightmare.

  2. Maya says:

    its something which will provide lots of information about the media of pakistan…….highly appreciable

  3. Watan Aziz says:

    Who will teach simple arithmetic to our media?


    How do these people get in front of the cameras?


  4. irfanch says:

    dear sir
    i am the master degree holder in mass communication i join media please give me suggestion and help me, My email adress is irfanch345@yahoo.com

  5. Anum says:

    I agree with you Sana! News is suppose to be delivered as it is not how the journalist or who ever incharge of that department wants it to be.

    Why I think they deliver false news and transform it into something so dramatic is so people can stay connected to their source of media only. But what they don’t realize is that this is degrading them and their media!

    ok And ??? you cannot compare the Media to normal people. Normal people live normal lives and so therefore they wont be too honest. But the Media is suppose to speak honestly only! Normal people like us depend on the media. So If you hear a lie and most likely you’ll believe it. Next thing you know the media’s scared the crap out of people for no reason or vise versa. The Media shouldn’t have the choice to lie! They HAVE to speak the truth!

    And as long as the politics goes, i dont think anyone can ever change them and their stupid lies!

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