Dawn’s Editorial: Media coverage
IT is the electronic media’s job to report on events as they unfold and relay news to viewers as quickly as possible. A spirit of competition — and there is a lot of it these days given the number of television channels vying for ratings and advertising revenues — also prompts organisations to stay one step ahead of their rivals. To be the first to deliver breaking news is to stage a coup. It demonstrates a channel’s ability to get to the bottom of the story more quickly than others and helps generate audience interest and draw the attention of advertising agencies. But in this race against time in the ephemeral world of television, sometimes the core values of good journalism come to be overlooked. No one of liberal bent can ever advocate state censorship. That way lies the squelching of dissent and freedom of expression. But at the same time there is clearly room for debate on the fast-fading distinction between conscientious journalism and the kind of reporting that is rooted more in sensationalism than a desire to convey what is known beyond question.
These troubling thoughts were fed fresh fodder on Monday as the media covered the siege of the police training centre in Manawan in the outskirts of Lahore. With one-upmanship calling the shots in some quarters, the death toll was exaggerated even though there were no solid grounds for such reports. Yet they were filed, and aired repeatedly. There is a big difference between seven and 70 dead. The anxiety felt by those whose relatives and friends may be caught in the crossfire grows ten-fold on the basis of such reckless speculation. And speculation is precisely what it is. It is not news. Such inventive reporting serves no purpose whatsoever other than heightening fear in an already traumatised nation. And yes, pulling in viewers and advertisers. In crisis situations, the cause of journalism would be better served if reporters and anchors were to err on the side of caution until rumours are confirmed beyond doubt. There was no need to show what looked like bodies — though in Monday’s incident some of those so pictured may have been policemen pretending to be dead. On the plus side, the decision by some channels not to show live footage on security grounds is to be welcomed. But that said, there is huge scope for raising awareness within the media of how it should go about its business without abandoning ethics.
: Daily Dawn, 1st April, 09