Media Silence: APCOMS

Nov 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Censorship, The News

This blog has pointed out in the past that often what is not reported in the media is equally as important as what is reported. By promoting certain positions, the media has a great deal of influence on public attitudes – if people constantly hear that the government is corrupt, they will believe it. And these perceptions are important. Even the Transparency International survey is about “perceptions” of corruption, not “proof”. But the other side of the story is that if nobody ever reports an issue, how will authorities be pressurized to see that a problem is solved?

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar brings up an interesting case of media ignoring an issue, and the issue failing to be addressed by the responsible in his column for The News today which looks at why APCOMS continues to issue unaccredited degrees to students.

Students across the country protest various administrative abuses on a daily basis. A cursory survey of major newspapers and TV channels suggests that editors are quite happy to run stories of many such protests. Yet APCOMS has been magically exempt from public scrutiny via the media. Any objective observer would agree that there is no meaningful defence of the APCOMS administration for its refusal to secure PEC accreditation, yet what little has appeared in the media about the affair – and not for lack of trying – makes it appear as if a handful of students have incited unrest for no good reason.

Self-censorship in the media is an old phenomenon in Pakistan. Yet over the past two years there has been a noticeable upsurge in media representations of politics and politicians as inherently suspect and attendant representations of the military and military men as upright and patriotic. The students of APCOMS exercised their right to assemble and protest as a means of protecting their rights. If the media refuses to hold a college run by retired military men to account then it is forfeiting its right to be called free.

This is an excellent point. Journalists experience all types of pressure even in countries with a ‘free’ media. Journalists who write articles that are too critical can lose access to influential people. Journalists that are too critical of the wrong people might receive a phone call in the middle of the night reminding them that they are being watched. Neither of these examples quite fall under the dictionary definition of censorship, but they still qualify as improper pressure from authorities and are roundly condemned.

But self-censorship is also a problem that must be addressed. If a reporter, editor, or publisher refuses to address an issue because he wants to protect someone or because he is sympathetic to their politics, this is also a form of censorship that must be condemned. Obviously, editors must make choices about what is important enough to deserve space on the page or during the TV show. But those decisions should be made based on the public good and the public’s right to information, not the editor’s personal politics or those of his friends.

Aasim has now broken the media silence on this issue. Will any other journalists have the courage to follow?

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