Social norms & public ordeal 

mediaBy S. M. Hali

“Freedom of expression without a sense of responsibility is like a knife in the hand of a child who can slit his own throat.” Raja Mujtaba

It has become a cliché to declare that Pakistan is passing through the most testing time of its history but unfortunately it is a hard fact. Some glaring challenges facing the nation are the absence of a sound educational base, lack of technological competence, high rates of unemployment, acute energy shortage, inflation, growing trends of poverty, political instability, incessant terror attacks and external intrigues.

The situation is aggravated because the Pakistani society has become oblivious to its own ethical values, traditional customs, conventional mores and cultural norms. Local media, which should have served as a sound platform to direct public opinion towards the revival of our rich heritage, has on the contrary, been invaded by alien moral ethics. Whereas western and Indian content has become all pervasive on the vibrant electronic media, some opinion builders like TV anchors and columnists, present their outlandish views in such a manner that further confuses the viewers or readers. Resultantly freedom of expression has been hijacked and is being monopolized by this select group of media pundits operating under a powerful syndicate, which silences any voice of dissent. The direct consequence of this milieu is that serious issues like terrorism and peace talks get buried in the incessant chatter and gibberish, leaving the people confused and perplexed. Some TV talk show anchors lack in-depth knowledge of the issues but they act as if they are erudite scholars on the subject. This is a disservice to their audience; consequently they tend to project the themes of a select few political leaders to promote their insular agenda. If that were not enough, the predicament becomes aggravated by the presentation of content which contains objectionable visuals and messages contrary to our ethical values.

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Media house proprietors are driven by the motivation of earning revenues for their outlet. In the pursuit of pelf, they disregard even the code of ethics for advertisers’, which prohibits airing of commercials pertaining to products like female sanitary pads and contraceptives, thus arousing curiosity in the young minds viewing the sensitive objects and raising questions in their infantile minds. Another negative aspect, which is destroying the moral fiber of adolescent viewers, is the broadcast of Indian TV commercials, which at times depict visuals containing offensive substance or morals in direct contravention to our societal values.

Unfortunately, the remedy which lies with the media itself by building pressure on the media houses to abstain from such presentations is not being resorted to because of conflict of interest. The creation of hype and building strong opinion to generate public pressure to convince the relevant authorities concerned to pay attention to stem the rot is lacking.

The situation calls for action on war footing against vested interests, which are messing with the minds of our future generations. On the one hand, non-state actors, with their extremist agenda, through subliminal programming and orthodox views, attempt to recruit the youth to become jihadists and cannon fodder for their heinous designs. Simultaneously, Indian propaganda mongers have a devious plan to convert the psyche of our youth by exposing them to values and cults obsessed with Hindutva, obscurantism and liberalism.

Opinion makers like academics, intellectuals and littérateurs need to pool resources and redesign the syllabi and curriculum promoting the ideology of Pakistan, the essence of civic sense, moderation and tolerance while highlighting the societal values taught by the tenets of religion.

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Electronic media, which has a major impact on its audiences, must be utilized to provide relief from the cognitive dissonance currently prevalent in society owing to the conflicting content they have been exposed to. A plan of action necessitates screening both commercials for vulgarity as well as content promoting moral turpitude, vileness and depravity.

Television broadcast is based on the micro economic convention of “supply vs. demand”. Ample consciousness of the social norms and the public ordeal must be generated by opinion builders using all elements of mass media including the social media devices, pulpits, lecterns and all modes of mass communication. The aim of the opinion builders must be to create awareness of the forces of malevolence pervading the society and demand the circulation of content that will strengthen their ideological bonds. Simultaneously, the end users of media must be convinced to denounce substances which are detrimental to moral health. Since media managers are highly sensitive to viewers’ ratings, the media houses will be compelled to drop the shows which have fewer eyeballs watching them and replace them with healthy and wholesome programming including talk shows.

Media, which becomes the lynchpin in this campaign, must assertively advocate to the government and masses to take cognizance of the problem and incorporate changes in the syllabus and deprecate propaganda with an endeavor to reinforce the moral strength of the youth in particular and the masses in general.