Filtration of Sharing Information with Media
No doubt, media have been playing a key role by educating and guiding the people regarding various developments and issues which have been taking place on global and regional level. Being the fourth pillar of the state, especially electronic media have brought the matters of public interest and bloody battles into our bedrooms. Thus, it has made difficult for the politicians to wage these wars without the knowledge of people.
When taking advantage of the freedom of expression, in the west, newspapers and TV channels employed various tactics like sensationalism, exaggeration and distortion of facts to attract the maximum readers and viewers for financial gains in the era of competition, consensus developed among responsible journalists and media owners around the world that it is against the moral codes of journalism. Therefore, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched an Ethical Journalism Initiative in 2008. But, it is regrettable that freedom of media in Pakistan appears to have been totally misused. Without taking cognizance of its negative effects on the people, spawning scores of new TV channels and associated burgeoning business interests led to coin unique methods of generating market competition so as to attract viewership and control financial shares.
In these terms, while presenting little or no legitimate well-researched news items, our TV channels, exploit, distort and exaggerate the news to create sensations and attract viewers in order to become more popular with the sole aim to advance their financial gains. Based upon opinion-masquerading as objective fact, our media anchors mislead and excite public opinion. They do not indicate what the people need, but show what the people want, thus have stunning impact of psychological shock.
Ignoring the moral codes of journalism, media reporters, analysts and anchors have adopted negative techniques and unscrupulous practices in their coverage because they have developed the habit of challenging the prestige of sensitive institutions of the state such as judiciary, army, ISI and law-enforcing agencies.
At present, the security and investigation agencies which are engaged in counterterrorism operations across the country have been barred from talking to media persons, because the Interior Ministry has decided to streamline the procedure of sharing of information with media so that the latter could not manipulate the same through sensationalism. The Ministry has sent a directive to the headquarters and regional offices of all agencies including Pakistan Rangers, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Frontier Corps (FC). According to the directive, the officials of different departments, particularly FIA, Rangers, and FC have been prevented from speaking to media persons without prior approval of the Ministry. No doubt, It is a step in right direction, as Pakistan is passing through a very difficult period of its history, facing with numerous challenges of grave nature like menace of terrorism, internal disorder, political instability, ethnic and sectarian divide—power and energy crises, poor governance, lack of speedy justice, deteriorating law and order situation, while tackling separatist movement in Balochistan.
At this critical hour, the situation in Karachi, Federally Controlled Tribal Areas (FATA), Balochistan and other sensitive areas of the country demand that sharing of information with media should be streamlined through filtration to enable the concerned authorities to conduct selected operations successfully, especially in Karachi so as to thwart the threat posed by terrorists.
Nobody denies the fact that media projection of different issues enables the general masses to keep them abreast of the significant developments, but some reporters, channels and media houses improve their ratings by disregarding the norms journalistic ethics. It damages the state interests and tarnishes national image including that of the county. In this respect, the hostile forces pick up reports based on faulty reporting and skewed analysis of our media and present them to larger regional audience and international opinion builders who incorrectly perceive Pakistani view point.
It is mentionable that Pakistan’s certain TV anchors and channels get over-assertive in their reporting against prestigious state organs only to improve their ratings, while others resort to sensationalism using slanderous and irresponsible expressions.
In this context, the system of ratings to evaluate the performance and ranking of TV channels by using subjective viewership—scoring procedures has brought cut throat competition among the TV channels. The aim is to attract maximum clutter of commercials around popular programmes of lucky channels. This enabled the channels to rapidly grow so as to collect their revenues.
In this connection, the rating schemes employ “The People Meter System” to measure the viewers’ responses for having viewed a number of channels as indicated by the meter. It is an automated system of electronic devices, which records what is being watched on the television.
However, various meters are installed at the residences of selected people in selected cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and few others. “The People Meter System” is absolutely faulty as it does not represent the population of viewers for which it reports. The concerned channels, earn billions of rupees despite using incorrect samples and unscientific techniques of rating. In fact, “The People Meter System” does not reflect opinion of the entire population of related- TV viewers. Therefore, the rating results are biased and do not show the true picture. In this context, the rating system has only created an environment of furious competition among the TV channels, while anchors make strenuous efforts to improve the ratings of their channel programmes by disregarding the principle of objective reporting and thus, overlook the moral codes of journalism.
While, some anchors and channels also employ unethical methods of bribing the viewers by suggesting them to keep on pressing the meter installed at their residences to get favorable results. Similarly, they target prestigious institutions and highly regarded individuals just to improve their ratings—falling below the ethical levels of respect and self-esteemed organs of state and the renowned persons. No doubt, mistakes have been committed by everyone in the past, and could unintentionally be done in the present. But TV channels and their commentators exploit the same instead of emphasizing solution of the concerned crisis. Nevertheless, there is a need to monitor the media rating system and sharing of information through an official filtration. In fact, the tools employed by rating system are neither credible nor valid; hence, the entire exercise appears to be confounded, illegal and unethical. Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) must take notice of the issue in detail and lay down the procedure to measure the viewers’ response pertaining to the ratings of a particular TV channel or programme. In this regard, experts of social scientists must be engaged to make the ratings scientifically valid and reliable. Meanwhile, the decision, undertaken by the Interior Ministry to streamline the procedure to share significant information with media is appreciable. Such a decision of the government is based on shrewd thoughts and rational judgment. Ground realities suggest that officials of FIA, FC, Rangers and Police must get clearance from the Ministry before sharing any information with media which exploit the same through irrational judgment.
Media must also realize that stakes are very high for FIA, FC, Rangers, Police and other security forces in accomplishing their tasks or operations. Their success depends upon the level of confidentiality they maintain. Therefore, the decision of the Interior Ministry in relation to the filtration of information-sharing with the media by prior approval should be supported by all the segments of society including responsible media anchors under the prevailing circumstances. Besides, our media must follow the real principles of journalism by educating and guiding the people towards right direction through credible and true information. They should avoid developing ‘stereotypes’ among the people by displaying unbiased news and comments.
At this crucial moment, we have to pull the country out of the multi-faceted crises, while our Armed Forces are operating under warlike conditions. Hence, media must realize that some degree of filtration of information is essentially required. This will enable the law-enforcing agencies to block some vital elements of information reaching the criminals. So, it is time for all of us to get united and show confidence in the government, these agencies and Armed Forces in order to succeed against terrorists and criminals.
Consequently, criticism of the government’s decision to streamline sharing of information with media appears to be irrational and unfair when the militants and criminals are challenging the writ of the government, and they need to be brought to the book. Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations Email: firstname.lastname@example.org