Note: I had previously published this article on LinkedIn, to read more articles published on LI please click on the Link
‘A good reporter is he who returns to his office alive, armed with a great story, ’ this is one remarkable piece of advice given to me at the very beginning of my career. Belonging to a country steeped in corrupting politics, marred by perpetual economic recession, defaced with ethnic violence and tainted with numerous other social issues; there have been (and still are) many stories to tell and bear witness to. But the real question is how media; especially journalism can responsibly strengthen democracy, ‘protects freedom of the people’ as well as become a voice of the common man.
Crude it may sound, but talking about the press and hard core, on-the-ground reporting – Pakistan undeniably provides a rich training ground for all. Historically speaking, there are lessons to be learnt as far as journalism; particularly in the Indian subcontinent is concerned.
Major players of the Pakistani media DAWN (an English daily), Jang and Nawa-e-waqt (Urdu dailies) emerged during the early years of the country. Running parallel to the birth of ‘freedom of speech and expression,’ were tumultuous chain of events that occurred in the country; starting with the mystery surrounding the death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah – Pakistan’s founder, assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan – Jinnah’s wingman, three martial laws over the next three decades, war with India, the breaking of East Pakistan and emergence of Bangladesh on the world map. These are but a few highlighting features that initially shaped the country and of course provided a great impetus for the written word.
Jumping to the 1980s, it was an era distinctly defined by a blinding censorship of the media by the then ruling oppressive military regime. Indeed sweet are the uses of adversity. Journalism thrived in a time marked by severe censorship of the press. Case in point: columns removed and sections left blank in newspaper dailies. Poets, writers and ‘rebels’ were chained, many were flogged even! But it also resulted in some of the finest works from journalists, pressmen and ‘insurgents’ alike.
Ironically though, it was during General Pervaiz Musharraf’s tenure in the new millennium which saw liberalization of Pakistani media. It was as if floodgates had opened for hundreds of new broadcast channels mushroomed; paving a way for indiscriminate dissemination of information.
Distorting reality has never been an issue especially in Pakistan. While it was previously shaped and molded according to the whims of the establishment, it is – at present – colored and given a sensationalist texture by the ‘champions’ of truth. Journos with dubious past and equally questionable present as well as media proprietors have all but blurred the boundaries between truth and invention.
The past one decade or so has seen a meteoric rise of Pakistani media as one of the country’s most powerful pillars and a tragic demise of journalism. Yes it is all about getting the scoop, but getting the facts right, that too in a professional manner, is just as imperative. Power does consume all and such is the case here! It is all about numbers and attaining more viewership through any means possible: whether it is instigating public uproar by playing with the sentiments of the masses on sensitive matters, irresponsible (read: brash) reporting that not only creates obstacles in national security and endangering the lives of many – the recent coverage of Taliban attack on Pakistani (Karachi – Jinnah Terminal) airport or a deliberate negligence of important issues such as the bloodiest ethnic killings that occurred the same day of the airport attack .
Freedom of speech, expression and press does not only entail dissemination of information, it means distributing information responsibly. Acting as a translator of reality, the press is an integral part of the democratic system. Should it not therefore be a voice of balance, credibility, sensitivity and accuracy; as opposed to being a bloodthirsty arena of yellow journalism; in order to bring about a positive change in society.