The Wedding, the Media and Us


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog.  Unedited version below:


Tu ghanti big ban di, poora London thumakda
Oh jaddo nachche pehn di, poora London thumakda..

Kabhi kabhi mere dil me khayal aata hai, kee jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye….

Bollywood classics and the latest romantic songs rung loudly against the images of Imran and Reham Khan as a sense of festivity occupied most channels yesterday owing to the couple finally tying the knot. As lowkey and simple was the marriage ceremony, it managed to kick up an even bigger storm in Pakistan.

Jon Boone of the Guardian noted and wrote:

“For Pakistan’s news channels it was the equivalent of a starting pistol fired on a sudden royal wedding, but with no footage to satisfy the audience.

They did their best, overlaying with fireworks the few available stills of the couple while traditional wedding music played over video of impromptu celebrations thrown by Khan’s supporters around the country.”

Features on the new Mrs. Khan and her biographical information ran as tickers on several channels along with footages and pictures, astrologers were called in to foretell the future of the marriage; Imran and Reham’s faces were morphed onto pictures of gaudily dressed bride and groom, relatives of the couple were contacted and of course, social media also ran amok.

From following Imran Khan sisters and issuing news of their absence at the Nikkah, which journalist Shiraz Hassan aptly called ‘Phuphu Journalism’ on Twitter; to inviting astrologers to argue over the strength of the new union between the two individuals, going as far to predict when a khushkhabri will come; Pakistan’s media once again succumbed to the temptations of trashy sensationalism. And once again, it has thrown light on the long way it has to go before being a beacon of real, responsible and mature journalism.

As much as the crazed response to Imran Khan’s marriage and judgmental comments on Reham Khan are deplored, they are but nothing new in a culture in which privacy is an alien concept and prying is a popular practice and norm. Unfortunately in Pakistan, where many hold the audacity to foresee God’s will and declare people bound for hell, anyone’s business is everyone’s business. It is therefore little wonder and slightly understandable that Imran Khan’s marriage was made subject of such a reaction and response.

However, it has still been shocking.

For a nation that saw the coldblooded, barbaric murder of 140 children less than a month ago, a mood as jolly and celebratory as that espoused by the media and the obsession sparked within the people was nothing less than abhorrent. Yet it signaled the quick shifting of priorities, focus and heart in Pakistan. Pakistan seems to have internalized and entrenched the norm of apathy in the form of temporary outrage, temporary outpouring of grief and temporary empathy which are proudly shrouded in the glossy garb of ‘resilience’. Any hope that the Peshawar Tragedy would strike and shake the lifeless body of emotion, reaction and empathy in Pakistan with horror and fury into galvanization dims in the face of this reality. Our apathy has become complicity in the bloodletting.

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In view of which, maybe it is too much to expect Pakistan, institutions and people in it to put up a show of sobriety and solemnity; to, for once, hold a monstrosity alive in head and heart and drive a stake through the monster once and for all.

It is often here said that USA had one 9/11 but Pakistan has one every day; yet such a spectre as was witnessed after Imran and Reham Khan’s wedding would never have been witnessed in America less than a month after 9/11. They never forgot, and we already have, as always.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja

Taming The Wild One : Media In Pakistan


Carte blanche for anything leads to an unhealthy atmosphere to be created in the sphere of its activities.

In a country where events have lead to the people lending unparallel countenance to the media, the line that should have been long drawn between freedom for the media and abuse of freedom seems to have self-effaced.

 

Media, both print and electronic, has become an important instrument in weaving a society’s ideologies and opinions both politically, mentally, emotionally and socially but in a country like Pakistan where for the past 63 years; the nation has been jerking between the rules of corrupt politicians and power-thirsty Generals which has nurtured the feelings of divestiture, infuriation and pessimism amongst them; the media with its raging political expositions and uncovering of happenings swept under the carpet by those running the country – has surfaced as a significant organ which is immensely trusted and supported by the people.

Media ethics have dwindled in the storm of the 21st Century that has left behind a plethora of ‘psuedo intellectuals’, anchors, journalists and a spate of private media channels.

Its influence on the mind of the average Pakistani has swollen to an enormous extent that almost boundless reliance and confidence is bestowed unto them.

Rather than informing people, the media has begun to feed them news that they wish to and each word of it is believed resulting into the paucity of much-needed critical thinking amongst them.

This utmost belief has also let the media commence with whatever they plan in the run for booming ratings or reader/viewership, without any questioning thus the swift corrosion of media ethics and principles.

 

It’d be apt to quote Arundhati Roy here:

 “In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred.”

  

 

Impartiality seems to have withered visibly with open bias seeping into what is written and reported. One-sided stories, deceptive and misleading headlines and fallacies have become rampant.

Interpretive journalism with sharp visible tones of personal opinions has rocketed causing a considerable abrasion of neutrality.

Thomas Patterson, a Professor of Government & the Press at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government guages the reasons that breed negativity in news in his book ‘The Vanishing Voter’ which can be associated to journlaism here also:

 [Excerpts]:

 “Interpretive reporting has unleashed the skepticism traditional in journalism. This style requires reporters to give shape to the news, and they tend naturally to shape it around their perspective on politics. To the journalist, politics is not a struggle over policy issues. They see it largely as a competitive game waged between power-hungry leaders. Politicians’ failings and disputes are played up; their successes and overtures are played down.”

 

Bashing political figures with boisterous, unjustified insolence and a brazen condescending attitude has slipped into the garb of a growing fad while sensationalism (which is defined as “the notion that media outlets often choose to report heavily on stories with shock value or attention-grabbing names or events, rather than reporting on more pressing issues to the general public. In the extreme case, the media would report the news if it makes a good story, without much regard for the factual accuracy or social relevance.” ) and yellow journalism coupled with impudent insensitivity, have transformed into a raging conflagration.

 

American historian and journalist Frank Luther Mott had defined yellow journalism in terms of five characteristics:

1. Scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news

2. Lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings

3. Use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts

4. Emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips (which is now normal in the U.S.)

5. Dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.

It is undisputably conspicuous from here, that some of these characteristics do exist widely in Pakistani media.

The need of the hour is certainly a code of conduct for the press and media in Pakistan.

The last was adopted by the General Assembly of the Committee of the Press on May 17, 1972 – with only 17 points and those too in accordance with the situations 39 years ago.

In October 2002, the government issued a new code as part of the “Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance”, though published under a military government, it is comparatively better than the former.

The Pakistani Government needs to revise, update, make alterations and additions in the previous documents of media conduct or chart out an entirely new comprehensive code of ethics which neither provides or is used as a tool for advantage by any of the two parties (Government and the media), which addresses and establishes accountability of the expanding affairs related to the media of today and ensures the prevention of misdemeanor by journalists and the media-men.

 

Even India’s Norms of Journalistic Conduct is a much particularized set of rules.

Ranging from Pre-publication Verification, Parameters of the right of the Press to comment on the acts and conduct of public officials, discernment between Conjecture, comment and fact, / encouragement of social evils to be eschewed, Covering communal disputes/ clashes, Reporting on natural calamities and Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters – it is characterized enough to deal with the emerging matters and activities of the media in this decade.

Keeping in view the stage of our budding media, the introduction of restraints and limits concerning the print and electronic media has become a compulsion of time. They need to be made and put into effect immediately so that our media evolves into a mature and responsible structure whose rightful freedom, position and flamboyance is preserved and protected while guaranteeing it complies to remain inside the set boundaries.

 

Most importantly, the regulations should be enforced and strictly actuated with their following stringently monitored by either a Government or autonomous body – for implementation of laws and plans is one of the basic problems in Pakistan.

A position paper titled ‘Codes of Conduct’ by Mike Jempson, Director of ‘The Press Wise Trust’ is a commendable work that concisely provides an understanding of why the code is required and the plan to sketch it and implement it.

It also mentions:

  “Media freedom is NOT about allowing those who can afford to own media outlets, or who work as journalists, to do what they wish (to make money or obtain political advantage); it is about guaranteeing the public the right to receive and communicate information and ideas.

 As The Press Wise Trust puts it: ‘Press freedom is a responsibility exercised by journalists on behalf of the public’.

The position of the media of any country forms an essential part in the criterion to judge the state of matters there and an independent media is the cornerstone of a democratic government but a sense of aversion and a feeling of distastefulness is developing towards the media in Pakistan due to the wrong direction it is taking its given freedom towards.

Rather than availing it, it is being abused.

I A Rahman, in his piece titled ‘Balance or Power’ states:

“The Pakistan media has almost always been the victim of excesses by governments, democratic as well as dictatorial, though the former cannot be as highhanded as the latter. As a result, the media has developed a persecution syndrome that has bred an exaggerated feeling of self-righteousness on the one hand, and an aversion to self-criticism on the other hand. Neither can be defended all the time, and the present appears to be a good opportunity for the media to do some soul-searching.”

 

So as the media gallops, wildly, to enjoy its independence on Pakistani soil – it must be tamed before it tramples much on the very ground.

 

– Hafsa Khawaja