Of all the negatives to come out of Pakistan’s political situation over the last few years, one of the few positives has been the rise of a media unafraid to raise pertinent issues. However, whereas Pakistani news portals have previously proven to be beacons of light, their credibility is increasingly damaged by remarkable displays of immaturity and an overall lack of accountability.
The Pakistani media often displays extraordinary irresponsibility in its reporting. After a suicide bombing in Lahore, members of several reputable news channels aggressively attempted to interview a teenager at a hospital, who was there to claim the dead body of a relative. When two young men were lynched in Sialkot for allegedly killing a resident of the area, the same channels displayed the video on live television after simply blurring the corpses. When Pakistan was being rampaged by everything from terrorism to poverty, viewers were subjected to unending coverage of cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis star Sania Mirza’s wedding. Recently, while the country is suffering from severe shortages of electricity and numerous battles between the ruling party and the judiciary, news channels have spent hours covering the death of famed actor Rajesh Khanna and the antics of Veena Malik, a woman who aspires to be the next Kim Kardashian.
Even more disturbing than the blatant insensitivity and idiotic reporting choices, however, is the rampant corruption within the Pakistani media. A few weeks ago, the leaked video of a commercial break on a popular news show revealed two famed anchors, Meher Bukhari and Mubashir Luqman, taking orders from their guest, a powerful business tycoon, as to what they would and would not ask him. During this off air conversation, the anchors also received several phone calls, offering both praise and further instructions.
When the video came into the public eye, the reaction was hardly notable. Bukhari dedicated a few minutes of her show to making some unconvincing clarifications, claiming that the off-air environment is always friendlier than an on-air interview. Friendliness, however, does not mean that a guest should be allowed to dictate what a journalist is going to ask. Lucman, released from the television station for “insubordination,” was immediately picked up by ARY News, an even larger channel.
There are innumerable other cases of experienced journalists receiving favors from certain people connected with the government and facing absolutely no consequences. Columnist Nazir Naaji received land from the acting government and his appreciation was well reflected in his column yet he is still an editor for the paper and is frequently called upon for his “impartial” analyses. Asma Shirazi, another well-known anchor, was provided an all-expense paid trip to the Islamic pilgrimage yet is still conducting her own show, heavily in favor of the government. Kashif Abbasi and Hamid Mir, the most popular anchors of the two largest news channels in the country, have repeatedly invited politicians and businessmen on their show who are currently being investigated for corruption, despite the courts’ strict orders against discussing ongoing cases. As an interesting side note, Abbassi is Meher Bukhari’s husband.
I have tremendous respect for many members of the media in Pakistan; working to expose the truth in a setting where it can often lead to dangerous consequences is admirable. However, if the media in Pakistan is to maintain credibility, news organizations need to be more sensitive in their reporting, more discriminating in what they choose to report, and more penalizing of anchors that are “on the take.” Weddings and fame seekers should not take precedence over human rights violations and if someone’s views are being inspired by their bank account, they have no business being a part of any respectable news organization.