4 stories that shed light on Pakistani media’s failings in 2015

Motivated by higher ratings, there were occasions in 2015 when Pakistani media went overboard with its reporting and turned news events into blockbusters. Here’s a look at four of the biggest stories of the year that saw editorial judgement thrown to the wind.

Imran-Reham divorce

Privacy of celebrities is a contested concept everywhere in the world. Tabloids and entertainment news (read: gossip) websites are reported to be raking in huge revenues while news providers who want to produce stories without added spice are struggling to break even. This question of protection of privacy is also a litmus test for how ethical the media is.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Pakistani media gave in to the temptation when PTI Chairman Imran Khan and journalist Reham Khan parted ways.

Before long, a story of ordinary marital souring had turned into a saga of intrigue. There were — largely unsubstantiated — rumours of clashing egos and struggles for control floating around as authentic news reports.

This type of coverage raises many uncomfortable questions for those of us working in the media vis-à-vis ethical reporting and journalism.

Shouldn’t media managers, editors, and opinion makers, as the gatekeepers of information, be above such temptation?

Why should the news cycle be dominated by a personal matter between two individuals when 300 Pakistanis had just died in an earthquake? Isn’t part of the media’s job exercising judgment on which issues should be of more or less public concern, and thus deserve more or less coverage?

Axact/Bol scandal

It is ironic that a scandal brought forward by a piece of excellent investigative journalism became a story of terrible journalism.

In May, Bol Television Network, the new media house touted as one to end all others, was exposed by The New York Times’ Declan Walsh as being built on fraudulent funding to finance the attractive perks to poach almost every renowned television journalist in the country.

The scandal caused mass layoffs across the board, but it disproportionately affected the middle and junior-level staff members who found themselves caught in a hostile market. With such a clear class of affectees, it is highly disappointing that the media at large chose to settle petty scores than to focus on the plight of the laid-off staffers.

Instead, media organisations chose to give in to their baser instincts of competition and money-making, devoting more air time and print space to Bol than to the kind of work that would show a mirror to their own industry.

The casualty in this conflict of interest was clearly ethics of journalism.

Nine Zero raid

High-profile raids get plenty of airtime because there is plenty of action to present and action sells. But perhaps sometimes other things should take precedence.

In March 2015, the first raid on MQM headquarters by Rangers became even more controversial and ‘sensational’ when a young MQM worker, Waqas Shah, was shot dead during the operation.

Yet the media callously aired footage of the ‘alleged’ shooting that resulted in Shah’s death. The inconclusive video showed the victim on his feet in one frame and on the ground after a few seconds as a Rangers vehicle and on-foot soldiers advance, firing aerial shots. A plain clothed man with a pistol in his hand is also seen standing next to Shah before he is seen flat on the ground.

With MQM claiming Shah was shot by the paramilitary’s firing and Rangers denying it, the media’s job was not to fuel the fire in an already tense environment by airing questionable videos that can possibly lead to premature conclusions on what is clearly a very serious matter.

Ayyan Ali case

While a supermodel attempting to smuggle half a million dollars to Dubai is a tempting opportunity to throw in puns and quips, our media went too far yet again.

News packages on Ayyan Ali’s hearings were hardly ever informative. Instead, they would focus on anything but the case: from Bollywood scores in the background to Ayyan’s clothing, her stumble, her makeup and more.

Sometimes the ‘news reports’ got plain embarrassing to sit through. There can be a lighter side to some stories but a line needs to be drawn somewhere, which is where editorial judgment comes in.

It appears most compromised on ethics to achieve higher ratings — a major blow to serious journalism.

Written in collaboration with Muhammad Omer Hayat, who wrote the second half of this blog. This blog appears on Dawn Blogs here: http://www.dawn.com/news/1229827/4-stories-that-shed-light-on-pakistani-medias-failings-in-2015

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No, Hamza, Karachi IS that important to Pakistan’s politics

As the only ones in the extended family who were based in Lahore, our home was always open to guests passing through the city for something or the other. Most of these guests would come from Karachi, where both my parents’ families were based. And as such, every time someone called to say they would be staying over at our place, I would bring out my list of why “Lahore Lahore hai”.

But the one thing that I never had an answer to would be when someone pointed out the vibrancy inherent to Karachi because of the unparalleled diversity of its populace. I would scoff about how all of those groups just wanted to kill each other all the time. After all, what good is diversity if there’s no security?

I saw a glimpse of that ignorance in a recent video by actor and self-styled political pundit Hamza Ali Abbasi, following the crushing defeat of the PTI (the party Abbasi spends the latter half of his video eulogising) in Karachi’s local body elections.

Abbasi begins by saying how disappointed he is with the election results.

How self-centered and arrogant must one have to be to think that his disappointment should be a factor in anyone’s decision to do anything?

The visual of this arrogant man paternally speaking at Karachi’s voters from on top of his plush Islamabad home is downright offensive.

But, it isn’t just his arrogance which blew my mind, but the ignorance that he proceeded to display in the next 30 seconds of this 16.5 minute-long rant.

“If one were to speak honestly, politically, you can neither make a federal government nor a provincial government by winning Karachi’s four or five seats,” he says in Urdu, which I am translating. He added;

“This one city is not that politically important.”

At this point, I am grateful that Abbasi chose to make a video, so that any arguments that his words have been mistranslated or manipulated can barely even get off the ground. Because this claim of his is simply, absolutely, and completely W.R.O.N.G.

I apologise for bringing facts into an argument that is based purely on emotion, but Karachi is that important.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, Karachi does not have four or five seats – it has 20, a little less than eight per cent of the contestable seats in our country’s National Assembly, and seven more than the second-largest city of Lahore.

Therefore, Karachi is more politically significant than any other city in Pakistan. It is true that by winning Karachi alone, you cannot make the federal government, but if a party were to win all of Karachi’s NA seats, it could very well establish itself as the third-largest political party in the country.

While I can concede that Abbasi’s general point about Karachi’s importance to the National Assembly has some merit, his argument about the city’s role in the formation of Sindh’s provincial government is laughably inaccurate.

Karachi has 42 seats in the Sindh Assembly, about a third of electable seats.

Just by winning Karachi, a party is pretty much already eligible to make a coalition government and needs only 24 more seats to form an independent government.

Moving on, Abbasi talks about how there is really nothing in Karachi other than “Clifton and Defence”.

As if that wasn’t insulting enough to the majority of Karachi’s population that lives outside these cantonment areas, Abbasi then brags about his life in Islamabad, which apparently is so good that the only reason he would walk into Karachi’s Orangi Town or Lyari neighourhoods would be if he had been bit by a rabid dog. This is some first class arrogance on display, folks.

As he continues to patronise Karachi’s voters from the comfort of his own home in Islamabad without knowing even so much as the number of seats in Karachi, the irony is lost on him as he criticises MQM’s exiled chief for controlling the city from outside.

He goes on to claim that Peshawar – the scene of Pakistan’s most horrific terrorist attack to date – and insurgency-hit Quetta have better law and order than Karachi. These claims are so wild that one struggles to even think of a cogent argument to refute them.

Abbasi then says that if things stay the way they are in Karachi (the horror!), nobody would want to come to the city.

Really, Hamza? Remind me again, where was the television serial produced, you know, the one that propelled you to fame? Didn’t you just say a few minutes ago that you regularly come to Karachi for work?

Undoubtedly, it can be argued that Karachi deserves better than the MQM. But Karachi isn’t irrational. Karachi knows what it needs to go on, because it knows how to go on.

Karachi is not Lahore or Islamabad, where the oppressive homogeneity of the population makes politics seem a zero-sum game.

In Karachi, there are competing interests of the sort that Abbasi doesn’t and probably will never understand.

This blog appeared on Dawn Blogs here: http://www.dawn.com/news/1224986/no-hamza-karachi-is-important-to-pakistans-politics