Publishing Media Critiques No Substitute for Actual Responsibility

The News (Jang Group)The News yesterday published an excellent article by Raza Rumi that continues the criticism of media irresponsibility that Ayaz Amir wrote about last week. It is important to note that both of these critiques were published by The News, which is regularly criticised by this blog for publishing irresponsible and unethical articles, often political propaganda thinly disguised as ‘News Analysis’. But publishing periodic media critiques is no substitute for actual responsibility.

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Despite publishing the moderate and reasoned columns by Raza Rumi and Ayaz Amir, The News continues to publish unsupported rumour and political ‘hit pieces’ by some of its employees.

Last Friday, The News published a column by Ansar Abbasi that implies that the investigation of corruption of Farooq Leghari is being carried out as revenge by Zardari. The author excuses his unsupported accusations by framing them as questions, a popular propaganda trick.

Is this not what Asif Ali Zardari used to complain when he was on the receiving end? When he got acquitted in one case, another was ready. Is he taking revenge for what happened to him?

Nowhere does Ansar Abbasi explain why the president of the nation would be spending his time orchestrating a petty scheme to try corruption cases against somebody’s brother, nor does he provide any evidence for this being the case. Rather, he merely asks a question, “Could it be so…?” and plants the idea in the minds of readers.

In another article from last week, Tariq Butt wrote an overtly political article that accused government and NAB officials of corruption and using an intelligence agency to keep government officials under surveillance. Butt’s article provided no evidence other than the supposed statements of an anonymous “ex-official”, making all of the author’s claims suspicious.

In fact, publishing overtly political articles has been an ongoing problem of The News. While it is commendable that Jang allows a few columns by Raza Rumi and Ayaz Amir to appear on their pages, it is no substitute for changing the general culture of their newspapers and ensuring that what they publish is fair and factual. Perhaps if Jang reigned in their out-of-control reporters, they would not have to allot column space to such calls for basic levels of media responsibility as those written by Raza Rumi and Ayaz Amir.

Jang Group, as with all media, would do well to heed the advice of Mr Raza Rumi

Many pertinent questions have arisen from this conduct of journalists as well as the legislators. The political parties have to display more scrutiny and devise ways of achieving internal accountability. The media at its end has to work towards self-regulation and setting a code of conduct. It should be reiterated that freedom of media is linked to democratic development. By tarnishing the image of civilian politicians and diminishing the trust in democracy the media would be doing a big disservice to its future and credibility.

Three important policy imperatives must be kept in view. Electronic and print media have to work quickly towards a regulatory framework. The state should have nothing to do with this process and it should remain within the realm of the media. Political parties must also show restraint while engaging with media and they should demonstrate that their internal processes are transparent and rule-based. Finally, media barons and owners of newspapers must ensure that the media does not become another interest group like the lawyers fluent in occasional violence and drunk on moral superiority.

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