One issue that we have tried to highlight over the years has been that journalists and media groups have a significant power to shape public opinion through choosing what stories to highlight and which to ignore. We have also discussed in depth how this can result in confusion and fracturing among the masses. In today’s Dawn, Huma Yusuf explains how the effect of this social fracturing in her piece, ‘Overlooked News‘.
Despite the farcical nature of it all, attempts by anchors to clear their names and undermine competitors overshadowed news that Abdul Sattar Edhi is at risk of being abducted by the Taliban in exchange for either a hefty ransom or the release of imprisoned militants, and has thus been provided a 24-hour security detail. (The Taliban have denied any such designs.)
The reality of Pakistan’s most venerable humanitarian needing protection from its most brutal militant group is more sobering than the endlessly televised reiteration of the fact that corruption is rife in every institution and sector, even among those meant to serve as arbiters and watchdogs.
Incidentally, news about the threat against Edhi was not the only overlooked reminder of the other profound challenges facing Pakistan: on Saturday, six people were killed in a bomb attack in Khyber Agency; earlier last week in the same region, three members of the Zakakhel tribe were killed in a car bomb attack.
In South Waziristan, the Pakistani Taliban warned NGO workers that they would be treated as criminals if they kept up their activities and pressurised local residents to leave their homes. In Tirah Valley, the Taliban took control of all Kukikhel areas, consigning members of the tribe to refugee camps. In Kohat, a Pakistan Army soldier was shot dead.
Overlooking this news has two effects. One is that it gives the impression that such events are not important or are ‘normal’ and therefore acceptable. Another is the point of Huma Yusuf’s piece which is that “as journalists, judges and politicians try to justify their dealings, they should realise that there is more at stake than their professional reputations”.
As the pillars of a democratic Pakistani state — the media, judiciary, civilian government and army — appear increasingly compromised, whether as a result of outright corruption or complicity, the public demand for equity and justice will gather momentum.
A narrative that highlights the venality of the political, judicial and journalistic classes and corroborates demands for justice could compellingly be used to recruit young Pakistanis for all manner of anti-democratic causes, whether Taliban-style militancy or other radical and violent means.
Professionalism and journalistic ethics are about more than the reputations of the journalists themselves. Media is a national institution that not only informs the public but is also seen as a check on public institutions. If the people see the media as corrupt, out of touch, and unreflective of the society they wish to live in, it will cause the people to look elsewhere for information and support in holding public institutions accountable. If media cannot do its job, there are willing replacements waiting on the sidelines. These replacements, however, make no pretense to being fair or balanced.