Pakistani Media: Misinformation and manipulation

The purpose of the media is an easy one to understand. The dissemination of factual information on issue relevant to the citizenry. This entails (or should entail) a research and effort to uncover the truth, as well as a responsibility to uphold principles of free speech, adequate voice (as absolute voice and impartiality is impossible) and a separation to some extent from the control of politics. Thus the media has always been imagined as a ‘watchdog’ in its role in politics. This is what it was traditionally meant to be, thus its freedom was protected (like during the American Revolution when printing presses came in vogue) and thus its is critiqued today based on how free it is and how free it lets itself be (like Chomskys critique of the role of the media during the War on Terror). But who watches the watchdog?

Recently Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Nadeem Ul Haque was asked by a reporter on him speaking at the National Defence University (NDU) on December 26 against the nuclear program. In fact the reporter had his story wrong. It seems his “facts” were based on what he thought usually goes on at the NDU and he was oblivious to what the expertise of Nadeem Ul Haque was. Haque was actually scheduled to speak on the Planning Commission’s New Growth Framework, but the event had been cancelled due to lack of interest.

Thus Haque raised an important question in this article he wrote after the interaction with that reporter: “Why should such reform not get media space? Whose fault is this?”

He went on to say: “I know they want a headline against the current establishment. Consequently, all governments regardless of creed and origin have avoided serious governance/civil service reform. All have failed to change the paradigm on market competition. No government has attempted to use public service delivery to underpin our governance approach. No government has reviewed our current approach to urban development that produces a sprawl… Our intellectuals’ efforts, evident in the media, display little interest in these crucial issues. Countries seeking development spend a far larger proportion of their public debate on crucial development issues than we do.”

If the media does not pick up on issues that actually require policy reform, it will never signal the politicians and policy makers to reform nor will it create space for a debate on the issues that really matter.

As this Pak Media Watch article puts it: “If reporters are hunting for headlines against the government with utter disregard to whether their stories are factual or in any way useful to the country, they are failing in an important responsibility as journalists.”

This brings us to the second issue. Where have all the honest journalists gone? A narrow focus on specific types of stories is one thing but blatant lies and corruption is another. This story is just one example of the decay of the media profession itself. Najir Nazi in 2009 caught himself in a plot scandal (had it been today it would be sensationalized ridiculously as “plotgate”). A reporter called him and asked about illegal allotment of plots by the federal government and got a dose of expletives, and the established journalist unabashedly told the reporter to even record his words that would put PTA to shame.

Our watchdogs are certainly not above the dirty game the rest of the country is playing, heavily ties into local politics. Why would the media then talk about things like a New Growth Framework or public service delivery, when kicking the opposition in the shin and then using it as a headline is what can bring them closer to a G-8 plot allotment? (Read about it here)

Media to an extent is always funded and influenced by politics. However, in well function democracies, the media thought not unbiased, takes a position and provides information on policy, business, economy and development rather than only infotainment and vapid critiques of individual politicians that has no bearing on the conditions of the masses. A cursory look at Pakistani media takes us so far way from the ideals that this essay started off with that one feels dirty. If only the media felt it too.

Courtesy: Pak Tea House

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