Know your limits


Too much power, very little responsibility


For years, we’ve demanded freedom of the press, the right of expression, the right of access to information. So much so that we lost sight of the ethics and principles that must govern such freedom. In our quest to quench our appetite, we unleashed a wild frenzy that violated basic norms and caused grievous harm.

Violation of privacy, the basic right of every human, cannot be condoned in the name of the principle of freedom of press. Diana, Princess of Wales, is perhaps the greatest victim in the modern day. Jackie Kennedy had her bad days with this factor. All this has led to the current hacking furore by a major English tabloid. A thirteen old murder victim’s telephone hacked, certain messages deleted, confusing investigators and possibly leading to her death in 2002. British armed forces in Afghanistan were hacked too, leading to their deaths.

Britain is aghast at the implications. Tabloids’ violation of norms prevalent in the UK, apparently involves large-scale corruption in the Metropolitan police and even parliamentarians. Certainly from the impact this must true. Cameron took time out during his Afghanistan trip to condemn this. Another statement followed, on the floor in parliament, immediately upon his return. Miliband, strong reaction demands fixation of responsibility and urging the then editor and now CEO of the Murdoch papers to “consider her conscience”. So strong is public revulsion that even Rupert Murdoch has been unable to distance himself.

Today, there is a call for review of advertisements being released to the tabloid press engaged in such activities. Ford, being the first to stop releases to the News of the World, the tabloid at the heart of the furore. Embarrassment for the politicians is great. Politicians of the highest stature in their bid to be elected have embraced Murdoch’s news empire. They now face public ire for allowing these violations while they continued to patronise these elements.

Tabloid newspaper excesses have over the years desecrated the victims while justifying actions as newsworthy for the general public. Realising the actual extent one is witnessing that even the sensation-hungry feel resentful and are appalled at the audacity. It’s not just Hugh Grant, among many celebrities, who was hacked but even ordinary people who suffered great damage.

Reports are that the police will investigate all highly publicised murders, kidnapping and assault involving a child for the last decade for telephone hacking. The public’s reaction has compelled a private investigator to apologise for any damage caused due to the “vilification” he and his family have suffered in the last 24 hours. Finally, if better sense prevails, the hundreds of cases in courts over hacking, and privacy violation, will find a conclusion that can harness this sickness. But not before a lot of dirty laundry is hung out to dry.

For the last few years, with growing intensity, Pakistan’s electronic media, more than the press, has begun to play havoc with the minds of the illiterate that constitute at least 83% of the population. The alleged talk shows are more akin to bhandh culture than anything rational. Of course, the lack of an agreed code and the government’s succumbing to journalistic pressure and non-implementation of libel laws has allowed this to flourish.

Code of conduct for the media has been touted, even agreed upon by various media organisations but never followed. Parts of Musharraf’s clamp down on media on that famous November 2 had merit, but unfortunately that was more for personal political reasons and could not withstand removal. A major publication had hosted a conference in 2010 to develop such code, what became of it one doesn’t know.

Recently, I watched a television show with a renowned anchor that dealt with the type of talk shows aired every evening at prime time. Her guests were the premier anchors of the country. Naturally there were divergent views, but I was impressed by the fact that the compere questioned the quality and nature of some of the shows. I was dismayed, however, by the fact that another major anchor agreed with the question that they are the actual opinion-makers.

This calls the entire subject into question. The majority of these talk shows provide the only television entertainment available. Guests are invited to provide mirch masala to the program, not for their intellectual prowess or value. Those possessing these qualities are invited to be ‘shamed’ and ‘insulted’ by the loudmouthed. Result: ridiculing the system. I’ve written repeatedly how I’ve had to leave the room overseas when a certain channel has diminished Pakistan.

Talk shows are meant to draw data and elicit the opinion of knowledgeable persons thereby allowing viewers to make up their minds on various subjects of public interest. In Pakistan, anchors have become heavily paid bit actors in a pantomime. They not only lead discussions but continuously attempt to shove their opinions down the throat of participants.

As always, one is optimistic in the hope that better sense will prevail. Even the illiterate are owed a better quality of information dispensation. What’s going on right now is “Not Cricket”.


The writer can be contacted at [email protected]