There are those who believe that all the media does is manipulate what people think. Honestly, we don’t have the time
It is very easy for the media to manipulate the way people think. There are those that will have you believe this is all the media does, ever. But frankly, we never have time from editing footage, subbing stories and designing layouts to actually plot world domination through careful, subliminal messaging. It would be too arduous and painstaking, especially for people who have to navigate deadlines like Indiana Jones navigates traps in ancient Mayan temples. It’s a madhouse.
So imagine my delight when I hear people vilifying journalists and anchors for taking sides and telling only one side of the striking doctors’ story. It’s the perfect set up. Take an issue that can be broadly termed ‘public interest’; simmer for a few days in the fire of sensationalism and misreporting; bring to a violent boil by petitioning judiciary and government to intervene; and of course, sit back and enjoy. Of course that’s what people think goes on in the newsrooms and editorial meetings of major media houses. And of course, they’re not being quite accurate.
What is the doctors’ complaint with the media so far? That it has been blatantly anti-doctor for the duration of this strike? That it has not called attention to the high-handedness of the Punjab government and has instead focused solely on crucifying the young doctors? That it has painted the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) in a negative light? Well, while it pains me to say this, what else did you expect from the populist mainstream media?
You see, media perception of any issue, i.e. the information that it relays and the footage that it broadcasts, is shaped by two things; what the reporters tell it and what feedback it receives from miscellaneous sources. Reporters, especially health reporters, are usually a sly lot. They have to be, because they deal with hundreds of different people (most of them doctors) on a daily basis. To fool a health reporter is usually not an easy task. But it can be done. So while one emergency department may have shut down and others remained open, the reporter can go to that one closed ward, shoot footage of wailing women and sobbing children, and air it with the assertion that all (or most) emergency departments in the city, are shut down.
A reporter would do this for two reasons: either he’s been told to do it from ‘high up above’; or he’s trying to press the doctors to give him a scoop or settling a petty vendetta (revenge for not giving him a scoop). In any event, this will cause doctors to reconsider and open up to said reporter, who will have a comprehensive piece in the next day’s paper, or a 90-second news story in the 9PM bulletin. There are very few reporters who actually go to the trouble of checking out hospitals themselves. I know some reporters like this; a few are even good friends and sound professionals. One can immediately tell from the way they talk that they are balancing their opinions subconsciously. A good reporter will always, even when giving you his opinion, tell you at least two sides of any story.
These good reporters have this to report: the doctors’ strike has been called off, but there is still dissent among the messiahs’ ranks. There are grumblings of defiance from certain groups who, it is said, were even contemplating contempt of court. But sanity prevailed and cooler heads thought that would be going too far. As of Monday evening, out-patient departments and emergency services are (by and large) up and running in most of Lahore’s major hospitals.
The new doctors that were ‘hired’ by the Punjab government are also an interesting phenomenon. These did not magically appear out of thin air, but were really post-graduate medical trainees who were already working at these hospitals when the YDA went on strike. They were the ones manning the fort in the doctors’ absence and may be safely considered heroes in their own right. And it is ironic that the strike should have inadvertently achieved one of its demands, as the regularisation of these trainees constitutes a major chunk of the YDA charter of demands. That’s a twist of fate if there ever was one.
But on the government side, all is not rosy. Already heavily in debt, Punjab cannot afford to accede to all the doctors’ demands. So they will try to stall. This has not worked out in the past either and the government has swept things under the rug by trying to divert attention to media-friendly epidemics, such as dengue. But not enough resources are available to revamp or substantially improve the healthcare services offered in the province. Overdraft is not the answer. We need a solution, fast. Before more messiahs become fallen angels. And more of the fallen become false martyrs.
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The underlying problem is that the doctors are being unfairly treated. Only a government can remedy it. The government does not want to re-prioritize budget allocation. The only feasible weapon that the doctors now have is to force government healthcare ergo the government to fail and hope for a more amenable replacement. They can do so by mass resignations leaving all government hospitals unmanned. Now that will be sensational.
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