American media is certainly not without problems, and no honest person will say that there is no bias or incorrect information published in American media. But media companies in that country do try to hold their employees to a certain high standard, and there are consequences when those reporters or TV anchors are caught violating those standards. Sadly, the standards in our own media seem to be completely missing.
We have written before about the cases of Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass – American reporters who were caught writing fake stories in order to boost ratings. These two and many others have been fired for what is considered an unforgivable act in American journalism. But it is not just faking stories that will ruin a career in journalism in other countries.
In the US, media companies have little patience for news journalists and anchors making outrageous statments. This week, American reporter Juan Williams fired by National Public Radio yesterday for making Islamophobic comments on the Fox News TV channel. Earlier this month, a TV anchor for CNN was fired after calling another TV anchor a “bigot” and making anti-Jewish statements during a radio interview. CBS News fired a popular radio talk show host after he made prejudiced comments about black women.
Now, let us review some recent incidents in our own media that have gone without even the slightest reprimand.
On 7 October, a reporter for The Nation, Syed Fawad Ali Shah, sent a message to popular press email list “Media Tribe” that says,
They know that the PPP aka wolkpack of looters headed by pirate prince Zardari came into power after licking the boots and …. of US officials and assured that they will have no objection over any US activity including attacks.
Journalist for Express Tribune and Aaj TV, Syed Ali Raza Abidi, is a popular Twitter user who regularly posts items that are political controversial including unsupported allegations against different political parties. For example, on 20 September he wrote:
MQM criticizes PPP openly – What is PPP afraid of? If MQM is carrying on Target Killings in Karachi – Prove it, and book em! #Pakistan
Then wrote one minute later:
But if PPP cannot prove it, then its THEM! for sure.
On 1 October, Syed wrote the following attack on Zardari:
Today President #Zardari spoke in #Sindhi, continuing his support for #Feudalism in #Pakistan – #Message #PPP #MQM #APML
How is this considered anything but political attacks? Are these Syeds supposed to be journalists or political operatives?
And they are not the only ones guilty of such acts. Jang Group sometimes seems to specialize in political attacks.
Ansar Abbasi’s attack on Pervez Musharraf was shockingly unprofessional, as we reported at the time. Also, Amir Mateen’s expose about Mian Nawaz Sharif was little more than a gossip column and attempt to insult the politician’s character, and yet The News published it anyway. Jang’s employee Shaheen Sehbai himself has a notorious record of publishing baseless and defamatory accusations.
Any of the above reporters would be severely reprimanded if not sacked outright in most countries, not for criticising a politician, but for being beyond the pale and engaging in character assassination instead of factual reporting. But here, for some unknown reason, there seem to be no consequences for such outrageousness. Actually, it seems to be rewarded.
Pakistan is a democracy and each person is entitled to his own opinions. Syed Fawad Ali Shah, Syed Ali Raza Abidi, Ansar Abbasi, Amir Mateen, Shaheen Sehbai and all the others can believe what they want to believe and say what they want to say. But free speech does not mean a free pass to do anything you want without consequences.
Ansar Abbasi is free to say whatever he wants, but he does not have the right to be paid by Jang Group for doing so. Therefore, if Jang Group, Express Tribune, Aaj, The Nation, and other media companies continue to employ people who make outrageous and politically biased statements without any discipline or consequences, it is reasonable to infer that these media companies are supporting those specific opinions. And if that is the case – if media companies are supporting a particular political opinion – they stop being news organizations and have actually become political propaganda machines.
Any profession has rules that must be followed. Police cannot arrest a man simply because they do not like his face. Judges cannot sentence a man simply because they do not like his family. Politicians cannot take money for themselves simply because they are in power. And journalists cannot be political operatives if they are also to be trusted to report the news.
Pakistan has a free media which should be a national asset. Instead, it is quickly becoming a noise machine.