mediaBy S. M. Hali 

The mushroom growth of the electronic media, since the advent of granting operating licenses to private TV Channels more than a decade ago, has offered the viewers a wide spectrum of news coverage but also added to their woes by at times presenting uncorroborated news as fact. Electronic Media is an extremely powerful tool. In his book Media The Second God, Tony Schwartz, a television advertising specialist, states, “Godlike, the media can change the course of a war, bring down a president or a king, elevate the lowly and humiliate the proud, by directing the attention of millions on the same event and in the same manner.” In view of its extraordinary clout, it is imperative that the media exercise responsibility in its coverage. Unfortunately, Pakistani media sometimes indulges in spreading sensationalism, causing severe repercussions. Take the example of an incident on 24th July 2013, when a certain TV channel aired the breaking news and repeatedly asserted that a PAF Mushshak aircraft has crashed in River Indus during a training mission and its crew is missing. Subsequently the media reporter updated that part of the crashed aircraft has been fished out. To further authenticate the account, DCO Swabi was quoted as the main source. The news spread like wildfire and falling prey to competition, the story was picked up almost by every TV channel without verification. This had severe repercussions since the region is inhabited by about 700 pilots belonging to Pakistan Air Force and Army Aviation, who engage in conducting flying training as well as operational missions. The aviators have elderly parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends in their native towns and villages as well as abroad. When such depressing news is released, without naming the crew members, the families and well wisher of every aviator fears the worst for their loved ones and PAF and Army air bases are inundated with frantic inquiries. When the truth unfolded, it was discovered that the concerned TV channel had released the unconfirmed news in its exuberance to be the first to break it whereas no air crash had occurred, while the rest of the TV channels blindly followed suit. ISPR informed that an Army Aviation Mushshak aircraft flying in the area dropped its external fuel tank due to technical reasons. The drop tank was later recovered by an Army rescue team. The incident was misconstrued by the TV channel, which never bothered to even render an apology to its viewers, callously remaining oblivious to the anxiety created by its baseless report. Unfortunately, in Pakistan there is no precedence of suing the media for causing misery and despair to its viewers through its negligence or willful misreporting. In the Occident, media remains vigilant, objective and watchful not only due to a sense of responsibility but also through the deterrence of being sued for libel or disregard of ethical norms. Take also the example of the lone gunman taking Islamabad hostage on 15 August 2013 for over five hours, when the Islamabad police and Ministry of Interior appeared clueless but the dismal performance of the law enforcing agencies is another story. The media was continuously providing a running commentary of the events; it even had a scuffle with the police while trying to go beyond the prescribed limits. The sad aspect is that in July 2007, during the Lal Masjid siege in Islamabad, the media had tried to become mediators, was communicating directly with the hostage takers, who being eloquent orators swayed public opinion in their favour and Pakistan is still paying the price through heightened terror attacks. Apparently no lessons were learnt and in this latest incident too some TV channels, in a bid to take the lead, were communicating with the gunman and his wife confusing the issue. Because of the interest created, general public started thronging the scene of the standoff, with their families to watch the Tamasha (show) live, putting themselves in danger. There is thus a dire need for the media to do some soul searching and evolve a code of ethics, a modus operandi, where its basic function of informing the people of the latest developments is not compromised but it remains within the boundaries of presenting confirmed news, sans sensationalizing or whipping up emotions. The media must itself be accountable to its elected/appointed body and face penalties for the violation of its own laid down norms. In the absence of such legislation, we will continue to repeat the same mistakes, continuing to agonize the viewers