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


Dear Mubasher Lucman, thanks for putting me and my people at risk

And by my people, I mean Shias and journalists, Pakistanis whose lives appear of little consequence to you.

Who are you kidding? Your beef with Geo TV has nothing to do with your “religious sentiments”, unless you consider ratings your religion. You are not interested in defending people’s religious faith. You are not going to be satisfied with the TV channel apologizing for what you alleged is “blasphemy”. You will only be satisfied, or at least I hope you will be, when the TV channel has paid a price for it in terms of losing lives business. But in the process, you have put at risk hundreds of lives of people who are doing nothing but earning honest livings as journalists.

Actually, why am I even expecting you to bother about the journalist community? It’s not like you’re a journalist. What would a self-styled anchor like you who has barely ever set a foot in a newsroom know about the daily challenges that real journalists feel? People who don’t make money by using shoddy YouTube videos as sources for their reporting and inciting hatred against others?

And why am I even expecting you to feel the fear that Shias in our country feel? Why should you, a Sunni male, feel any fear in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that puts you, your needs, and your religious sensitivities above mine – a Shia woman? If you empathized with this persecuted minority in Pakistan, which is battling with a virtual genocide, you would have thought at least twice before “dog-whistling” your way into the group that justifies the murder of Shias in our country.

Have you ever heard of the word “responsibility”? That’s what you should accept for pushing your viewers towards more hatred through your obscurantist rant.

Here’s some piece of advice from a person who’s a member of the communities you have directly threatened: Next time your piety bothers you, think about the show you did with Malik Riaz and how much “support” he provided you in that incredibly “honest” piece of reportage that you did. And maybe, if you have a heart, think about the production team of your own TV show – the people whose lives you just put in danger look, sound, and work hard just like them.