What is the line between ‘reporting’ and ‘mouthpiece’? When is a reporter simply telling about an event, and when is he amplifying a political message? This is not an easy question – it raises important questions of neutrality and professional responsibility in journalism, as well as what is media’s role in society. But whether or not the question is difficult, it is one that needs to be considered.
Earlier this month, several newspapers reported on a conference of Aalmi Majlis Tahafuz Khatme Nabuwwat in a way that was criticised as being less like a news report and more like a press release. Each of the pieces in Daily Jang, Daily Khabrain, and Daily Express is basically the same report about what was said at the Khatme Nabuwwat conference, including the claim that “the real threat is not Haqqanis but Qadiani’s denial of Prophet’s finality”.
In each piece, the anti-Ahmadi claims are published without comment. While Daily Jang, Daily Khabrain, and Daily Express will certainly offer the defense that this is not their position, that they are simply reporting what was said, is it possible that readers of these newspapers could come away with the idea that Khatme Nabuwwat’s positions are validated by the reports?
But even if the report was neutral about the Khatme Nabuwwat gathering, why was only one side of such a controversial issue presented for readers? With such a strong statement against Ahmadiyyas by Khatme Nabuwwat, why did the reporter not seek out a comment from an Ahmadiyya leader for his response? Since the claim involves matters of national security, why did the reporter not request a clarification from ISPR about whether terrorists or Ahmadis are the real threat to Pakistan?
On Monday, The Nation published an article titled, ‘NWA action to pave way for US boots’. The unsigned article describes a speech by Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan Ameer Syed Munawar Hassan at a press conference in Sahiwal. The reporter dutifully describes the JI chief’s claims: America is hell-bent on making India super power of the region, Pakistani rulers have taken dictation from America, Pakistani government is pro-America and anti-Pakistan, American aid is breeding corruption in Pakistan, etc.
While we have no reason to doubt that the JI chief said these things, as The Nation reported, we would like to ask our dear readers again whether reporters have a responsibility to their readers to fact check the subjects that they are reporting, or if they should simply publish what they are fed without question.
Actually, there is no easy answer. The Nation cannot be condemned for taking the side of JI in this case because they are only reporting what was said. But neither does it appear that the reporter asked the political leader for proof of his claims. For example, Munawar Hassan claims that “America is hell-bent on making India super power of the region” and “Pakistani rulers have taken dictation from America”. These are serious charges. Shouldn’t Munawar Hassan be asked to show his evidence for making such claims? Or are we supposed to merely take him at his word that this is true? Why didn’t the reporter ask for a response from government officials who were being accused of being ‘anti-Pakistan’?
The question comes down to whether these media groups are reporting, or just transcribing? Are they giving readers a complete understanding of issues and events, or are they, intentionally or unintentionally, acting as mouthpieces for political groups? Unfortunately, the answer is not so easy. But these difficult questions must be answered if we are to improve the quality of our media and, with it, the quality of discussion that we have on the issues of the day.