Manipulating the Media

Mar 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Ethics

The following piece by Kamran Rehmat appeared in Gulf Times on 8th March. In his piece, the author notes specific instances where the media claimed to be independently reporting politics, but appeared to actually being easily manipulated.

There have been at least four instances in 2011 alone that have established that the independent TV media in Pakistan have failed in their role of either informing or educating the people and on what really is happening when the people were primed to make up their minds on the issue about who really governs the country.

The first was when CIA agent Raymond Davis was caught in Lahore, the second when Osama bin Laden was found comfortably snuggled in Abbottabad, the third when Nato troops gunned down Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border and the fourth when the so-called Memogate bait was thrown to get the president.

In three instances, the media was manipulated by the military Establishment into taking anti-American sentiments sky high to increase their leverage over Washington.

By using the Establishment’s standard narrative of nationalism, religion and patriotism, the media got played into ignoring the basic principles of journalism that demand a professional, neutral posture based on fact rather than opinion.

TV in Pakistan is full of opinion-making anchorpersons on primetime talk shows that are always blurring the line between fact and opinion and the line between opinion and analysis.

For any media professional, in its short life of a few years, the prime medium of public’s information in Pakistan has proved an embarrassing advocate of the cliche and the stereotype. “Parliament has failed” (really? Who has cleansed the constitution of a large part of the legacies of Generals Zia and Musharraf, passed a battery of pro-women laws and got back powers from the president that didn’t belong to him?), “Military is the guardian of national frontiers” (as if the military is not part of the government and the government and parliament are not the guardians), “The government is corrupt” (which court has declared the government corrupt?), “Doing business secretly with the US is against the national interest” (So, if a military government does it, it’s in national interest?) .

In the latest manifestation of manipulated coverage, the PPP government has been in the crosshairs of the so-called Memogate affair.

Even though the military’s pet peeve, Husain Haqqani, was forced to resign as ambassador under military pressure for still-to-be-proven allegation of seeking indirect American intervention to stop the possibility of a coup against the elected government of President Asif Zardari in the wake of the military’s failure to stop the US raid in Abbottabad, the electronic media has been largely playing the adjudicator.

The bias was obvious when it chose to play up one set of allegations made by Mansoor Ijaz, the architect of the Memogate affair, that was against Haqqani – the target was really the president because Haqqani was his man – while playing down the other set of allegations against the ISI chief for also seeking foreign assistance to oust the PPP government.

The media in Pakistan in general has been easily manipulated, with the exception of print media in the past, by the Establishment but what is happening now is that the electronic media appears to be strengthening the military establishment and the judiciary against the parliament.

This raises an obvious question: If electronic media can be so easily (willingly?) manipulated…can it be truly considered free?

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