Revamping media code of conduct
By : Muhammad Waqas
When former President Pervez Musharraf liberalized state policy regarding media in early 2000s, several new private channels mushroomed on the landscape. These channels were hailed as the fourth pillar of state that not only brought entertainment to the masses, but also exposed wrongdoings in the society.
Ironically, Musharraf was brought down from power by a highly vocal media and judicial activism. Since then, private media channels have continued to gain immense strength and now are even dreaded by some sections of the society as a monster. A monster that knows no bounds and will breach any barrier in the race for achieving higher commercial ratings. The recent Karachi airport security incident has once again brought the issue of devising a code of conduct for media to the forefront.
The media, which was once celebrated for spontaneous reporting, was heavily criticized for showing immaturity in this conflict-zone situation. While questions have been raised regarding effectiveness of security cordon around the area, media representatives relayed even the most sensitive details of the operation carried out by security authorities. These details could have jeopardized the whole operation and compromised security of the press and public.
The government of Pakistan has also expressed its displeasure over the “irresponsible live coverage” during the Karachi airport attack. Chaudhry Nisar, the country’s interior minister, has urged the media community to establish a code of conduct for live reporting. At the same time, other official reports point out that the government is close to revamping existing code of conduct set forth by the PEMRA, the state’s media regulatory arm. Under the proposed amendments, government will be taking stern actions against all cases of code violations. Previously, the government had urged commercial media to draft its own code of conduct but the call received a lukewarm response from the stakeholders.
The need for a new code of conduct is being felt more than ever as some private media channels are being accused of fanning sectarian hatred, and also carrying out anti-state agenda. The essence of a revised code of conduct should not be on limiting freedom of expression in the country. Instead, it should be seen as a step to promote free and responsible journalistic activities in the country. Recent events show that media representatives are rather untrained in handling sensitive topics and often driven by the commercial aspects of media coverage. In the unhealthy war for higher ratings, media ethics are sidelined and at times grossly inaccurate reports are presented. Strict implementation of a code of conduct is likely to promote professionalism and improve the quality of journalism in Pakistan.
The media must play its due role in helping Pakistan to overcome antagonistic forces that seek to destabilize the country. A new code of conduct may even momentarily limit access to information, but this may be vital to maintain peace and order. In the Karachi airport episode, some channels transmitted inaccurate news about destruction of some aircraft and a possible hostage situation. Such misrepresented facts sowed fear and confusion among the viewers, and further hurt the country’s image.
If Pakistan’s media is keen on regaining its lost status as the fourth pillar of the state, it should not be repulsive to any code of conduct that promotes objective, responsible and fair reporting practices.