Saturday, July 10, 2010

United for yellow journalism!

It becomes clearer by each passing day that the calls for accountability, fairness and sense of social responsibility by media, judiciary and the so-called civil society of Pakistan are nothing but a sham. It became all too clear when media launched an attack on a very carefully worded resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly against the yellow journalism permeating our fourth pillar of state.

One hoped that media would react positively to the criticism, resulting in soul searching to any degree, however, any such possibility as it turned out was wishful thinking. Nonetheless while our media remains in denial, here our some examples of yellow journalism and blatant slanting of information by the honourable print and electronic media, that have effectively ruined the public confidence in the elected system.

Most recently on 29th of June the electronic media burst into a story of over 10,000 containers going missing, translating into duties worth Rs 200 billion. The anchors launched into a tirade about bad governance and corruption that plagues the presents set-up. Ministers and government representatives caught unaware promised to look into the matter, only to be met with a disdainful smirk by the anchors. The print media joined in the attack by the next morning and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, obviously took a suo moto notice. Within 36 hours the credibility of government was effectively ruined.

By the evening next day the inquiry had been completed and as it turned out 43 containers of liquor had gone missing. Bear in mind that liquor is not taxed in Pakistan and no duty was lost to the country.

Another such news made headlines when the most watched news channel of this country cried wolf about Asif Ali Zardari’s men taking over a staggering USD 72 Billion property in Karachi belonging to Karachi Port Trust. The show aired in January 2010 kept blaring ‘72 arab dollar’ before it realized that it was a bit too much and switched to ‘72 arab rupay’. Realistically the land would not fetch two, three or at max ten billion rupees, the fact that the land grabbers it turned out were the cronies of one of many holy cows of Pakistan and the incident had to be hushed up is besides the point.

Similarly media played to its advantage to smother the repute of the elected government in the case of the so-called LNG scandal. It was reported that government had deliberately preferred a more expensive bid by a European firm over the bid by Fauji Foundation. Needless to say the Supreme Court jumped into the matter once more and newspapers reported that the Chief Justice of Pakistan had ‘mercifully’ allowed the government to revisit the process. The fact that it was bureaucracy in the petroleum ministry that was responsible for the alleged mishap was conveniently ignored. The ministries send proposals and bids to Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet which then takes a decision was not addressed in the media as the aim was clearly anything but accountability.

Then right in the middle of last month, the most read English language newspaper of this country wrote a full page investigative report maligning the interior minister of the present regime Rehman Malik on the front page. In the alleged scam, the government has supposedly lost rupees 30 Billion in revenue due to the reason that government raised the tariffs on certain phone calls terminating in Pakistan resulting in increased traffic on alternate Voice over Internet Protocol, of whom a company allegedly owned by the minister was a direct beneficiary. The entire report like always was based on ’sources’.

The post was promptly condemned by the minister who also threatened to sue the paper while the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority issued a clarification that the information published by the newspaper was erroneous. The tariff readjustment had actually ‘impacted positively on USF, LDI operators and hence the economy.’ The condemnation nor the clarification by the PTA could find its way to the most newspapers.

The endless list of media’s ‘yellow journalism” or maybe the general level of incompetence includes disproportionate reporting, unconfirmed news alerts, heavy reliance on ’sources’ which must not be named and the lack of interest or the need of any other section of society’s accountability apart from the politicians.

Each day the media plays havoc with investors’ and more importantly the confidence of common citizens of Pakistan. Sensationalizing of issues is now taking its toll, the rupee is on the decline, the stock market struggles but fails to reach out to the 10,000 psychological limit and a general sense of despair engulfs the common citizens despite the record high remittances and reserves, positive reports by financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF (once again conveniently ignored by the media) and a general strengthening of writ of the government over the country.

Be it the matter of fake degrees or a judges scathing remarks ridiculing the political set-up, launching a war to reclaim Swat or the passing of eighteenth amendment the chunk of media seems determined to find a fault to help awash any possibility of a positive image of the democratic system of government and demonize the present setup. Media may have coerced the leader of the second biggest party of this country into apologizing and humiliating the voice of his own province’s elected representatives but should it not mend its ways, it is only a matter of time that media would get burned by the fire it is trying hard to play with.