bad newsBad news sells

By S. M. Hali 

A friend of mine recently approached a certain TV channel for the placement of a thirty seconds paid content. He was shocked to learn that it would cost half a million rupees if aired during prime time. It is regrettable that coverage of terrorist attacks, bomb blasts, carnage, mayhem, kidnapping for ransom, loot and arson is not only free but is all pervasive and hogs the air time. Terrorists, looters and plunderers have an unfair advantage. If one desires to send out a goodwill message on the electronic media, it will cost an arm and a leg but those who want to harass the masses and publicize their heinous deeds, they can do so free of cost.

The predicament raises the decades’ old debate of “what news do we follow and why?” The media is often blamed for negative journalism but its rationale needs understanding. The conundrum is that media is an opinion builder but relies on earning revenues to sustain its continued operation. In order to gain as well as retain the attention span of the masses, it depends on the human psyche that media users are more prone to be attracted to bad news than good news.

Media practitioners are habitually not pessimistic but they tend to follow the economic equation of demand vs. supply. Media houses are basically businesses that thrive on jarring the consideration of their audience through the “shock and awe” treatment; hence the reliance on the propagation of bad news. The other essential aspect of this dilemma is that the current milieu is such that terrorist attacks, bomb blasts, mayhem and carnage are the order of the day. If the media chooses to ignore these events, it will not be fulfilling its responsibility of timely informing its audience. Older readers may recall that once upon a time, when the Pakistani media was in shackles and the state media painted a rosy picture, ordained to projecting the activities of the rulers, people used to resort to the international media to obtain the whole picture, which sometimes used to be skewed and biased, depending on the origin of the media.

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The advent of media freedom in Pakistan has provided options to the local population but also unleashed a mad race for projecting “breaking news”; at times without waiting to confirm its veracity or authenticity.  It has become imperative that being an effective tool, Pakistani media takes up the cudgels for exposing the real malice of terrorists who call themselves Muslims but spread evil, bloodshed and crime against humanity. Their aim is to attain religious legitimacy, seek credibility and remain relevant while undertaking brutal acts of terrorism with a view to terrifying the audience. Terrorists have been targeting the innocent people including women and children, political leaders, Armed Forces, Law Enforcing Agencies, religious scholars, media and Judiciary to project their invincibility and power. The media should be able to see through the veneer of the miscreants’ lust for power, pelf and illusions of grandeur. More importantly, the terror mongers are in reality not as powerful as they project themselves. They can be defeated if the nation is united and media is the vehicle most suited for creating the awareness in the masses.

The terror groups have also become cognizant of the awesome impact of media and have started blackmailing, threatening and targeting media itself, in a bid to acquire media attention.

There is a need for media to take steps to thwart the danger of terrorist attacks but also continue to report objectively, rather than glorifying the terrorists or granting them media space. Simultaneously, media has the additional responsibility of raising the morale of the people who are traumatized by the terror attacks. It is an uphill task but one that envisages courage to present objective analysis and denouncing the odious agenda of the terror mongers. In a country like Pakistan, which is ranked high as a place where maximum journalists face death while pursuing the truth in exposing terrorism calls for a Herculean effort. It is the responsibility of the media organizations to develop a strategy to infuse a sense of confidence among the audience rather than falling prey to the terror groups’ propaganda which is aimed at intimidating the media – a strong pillar of the state- which can promote their cause effectively. Simultaneously, another pillar of the state, the judiciary is also being intimidated to enable the terrorists apprehended by the law enforcing agencies, go scot free. Whereas it is the responsibility of the state security organizations to protect the judiciary from terror attacks, the media can also instill confidence amongst judiciary to rule in favour of justice and fair play, while meting out judgment to penalize terrorists. Bad news sells but as media users we need to turn the tables on the terror mongers.