Media Forms Negative Public Opinion

power of media44  By Sajjad Shaukat

This fact has been recognised by all the intellectuals that media play a key role in forming the public opinion. It has the power to mould peoples’ views in positive or negative sense.  In the western countries, journalists enjoy freedom of expression, but they do not cross the limits by exaggerating some chaotic event or development which could result in misguiding the general masses.

It is our misfortune that since the private TV channels started in Pakistan, media has always misled the people by manipulating any event or development which does not suite the country, as it has already been facing multiple crises of grave nature.

Besides other issues, let us take the example of small incident of July 15, 2013 in Islamabad, where the lone gunman, namely Sikandar Hayat, while sitting in a car had been firing intermittently and Police did not go ahead. Although Police had worked out a strategy to negotiate with the gunman, yet due to hindrance by media, Police seemed to lose time in its rational response. The entire nation was embarrassed before the world which was watching the entire drama. It further tarnished the image of Pakistan in the eyes of international community in wake of continued terror-related incidents.

There is no doubt that live coverage of an event has its own merits, while it dependents upon the situation. But the live coverage of the gunman indicated media’s irresponsible approach. During this sensitive situation, instead of becoming a support element of state by facilitating the state organs to perform well, media started impeding the task of security and law-enforcing agencies which were engaged in handling the issue. Media confused the scene with reporters and cameramen, and by making telephone connections with the suspect to negotiate in awkward manner. These anchors also criticised the vital state organs like Police and law-enforcing agencies by misinterpreting the scene, and thus formed negative public opinion.

On August 16, while hearing a suo motu case, even Chief Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar Mohammad remarked, “The live coverage of Jinnah Avenue’s like incidents are against the norms and cause panic among the public.”

It is notable that ARY TV Channel has always been appreciative of Supreme Court’s verdicts in different cases, suggesting to the public that Judiciary must be respected under all circumstances. Contrarily, its anchors were especially audacious enough to point out public whisperings by indicating certain biases and prejudices of individuals regarding various cases including Arsalan Iftikahr–Malik Riaz corruption case—alleged selective suo moto notices, and Pakistan Peoples Party’s perceptions that Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Chaudhry Iftikhar Mohammad was soft on Pakistan Muslim League (N). They also pointed out that public undertone that lawyers have become the force of Chief Justice, while lower courts lacked patronage against rude, insolent lawyers, maltreating judges, ignoring rigging in present elections, refusal to cooperate with Public Account Committee under Nadeem Afal Chann for audit of official funds etc. However, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudahry’s recent visit to Quetta coincided with the registration of FIR against the chief executive of ARY News, Salman Iqbal, the Executive Director Owais Tohid, Quetta bureau chief, Shahid Hameed Rind and Islamabad bureau chief Sabir Shakir over the broadcast of showing video clips of terrorists’ attack and bombing of Quaid’s residency at Ziarat.

Balochistan’s provincial information department mentioned in the FIR that ARY News, in its current affairs programme on Aug 13, ran “objectionable video clips” released by an outlawed outfit Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) about the destruction of Ziarat Residency after an attack in June.

Without grasping reality, and just like the trade union type move, it stirred the entire media community, and the organisations of journalists had staged protest demonstrations throughout the country against the action of the provincial government.

Media reports also revealed that the FIR was registered on the instructions of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudahry. He had also taken notice of videos, showing terrorists’ attack on Quaid’s residency and ordered the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to investigate and inform the Supreme Court about action taken against the channel.

So far PEMRA has not been able to apprise the court as to why ARY Channel permitted display of videos. Some media anchors misperceived that FIR was registered on the instructions of Chief Justice who wanted to take action against ARY Channel because he was not happy with it.

By ignoring their responsibility, Journalists regarded the FIR as an attack on their independence, showing firm resolve to force the government to withdraw the FIR. Media’s reaction on registration of FIR against ARY Channel appeared to be harsher than expected, as they started blackmailing the government through their protests. In this context, instead of guiding the general masses in right direction, their anchors and pro-media commentators criticised the rulers and even the Judiciary in one or the other way—thus formed negative public opinion. However, because of their undue pressure, the Balochistan government withdrew the FIR.

Unfortunately, the government failed to apprehend the perpetrators and did not mobilise public support against the terrorists. By availing the opportunity, media, particularly ARY exploited the Ziarat incident by inciting public emotions with regard to insensitivity of the government to undertake action against those who attacked the residency in Ziarat.

No doubt, people of Pakistan were hurt on watching such a video, shown on the Independence Day. It seemed that it became part of the program highlighting the cause of creation of Pakistan, with comments on criminals’ attack on Ziarat residency.

Nevertheless, our media needs to correct reporting, and also stop encouraging hostile forces to use media as a tool of their anti-Pakistan activities. Pakistan is proud of its independent media services in restoring the Judiciary and facilitating the democracy to be nourished. Media must restore Pakistan’s image. So instead of forming negative public opinion by misguiding the people through exaggeration and prejudices, our media must develop positive thoughts among the general masses.

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


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