A poor show (on Media)- Express Tribune

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The Pakistani media has embarrassed us with the quality of reporting it has done out of Afghanistan. Last week, one had lamented over the fact that Pakistani media outlets had not sent their correspondents to cover the monumental events taking place in Afghanistan. This week, the lament is quite the opposite — the fact that many outlets finally did send their correspondents soon after and how these so called “foreign correspondents” let us down.

Let us face it. The quality of broadcast journalism in Pakistan is quite poor. Most of our channels focus on stories that raise ratings — let accuracy and decency be damned. The flagship programmes of most of our channels are the talk shows where guests, usually members of different political parties, trash each other while the host anchor eggs them on. This isn’t journalism, its entertainment. This formula has been successful for more than a decade now.

Therefore it comes as no surprise as some of these anchors and star reporters, with the notable exception of a few, went totally unprepared, unbriefed and unaware into Kabul. We sent entertainers, not journalists. Instead of asking the hard questions that they were expected to, many of these journalists decided to simply report that all was well and that people were happy with the new government. Most had no clue on how to file a proper news story. One reporter talked about the peace on the streets, another in his interview with a Taliban official complimented his subject on the way things were as part of the interview. And so it went on and on.

People at home, many of whom think that the Taliban takeover is a victory for Pakistan, were somewhat delighted. But it is not the work of the news media to reinforce what people want to hear. In fact, in some instances it is quite the opposite. The media should have been more aware of what is happening next door. To begin with, if things were as rosy as claimed by our media, thousands of Afghans would not be fleeing their country. Also, as journalist, one has to report all parts of the story — the good, the bad and the ugly. This did not happen.

The question to ask here is the quality of trainings given to journalists in Pakistan. As we all know, most journalists here do not have a degree, let alone a degree in journalism. Then there is the issue of awareness of ethics and law. Most are oblivious to this as well and continue to misreport and misinterpret. Our faulted ratings system plays into this circus as well. The more people see and talk about a story, the higher its ratings. Invariably, most viewers comment or react to poor instances of reporting, and instead of such work being reprimanded, it gets rewarded. The powers that be look the other way. The public suffers.

Things are changing, however. Not necessarily for the better. Advertising spend — which was previously the domain of the broadcast media — is now moving towards the digital media space. Television channels are feeling the pinch of declining revenues.

The digital space is an interesting world. But it comes with its downside. Much of the revenues are going to social media and not to digital news platforms. This means that platforms like Twitter and FB are where the money is going. Through their own systems of moderating, these platforms are also deciding on what is news and what isn’t. We have seen time and again how accounts have been closed down because of some tweet or posting that was seen as contrary to the guidelines given.

This isn’t happening only in Pakistan but in many other countries. The only way we can check this trend is if we strengthen independent digital news platforms. This may bring the audiences back and with it will come advertising revenues. But we are scared of doing that as it would mean reporting the truth. For some quarters at home, this is somewhat unacceptable. Truth has to be pampered and massaged. It is a tough choice. In all this, the audience suffers. We are not told the whole story. The fact of the matter is that we are gradually losing control of our news. This is the scary part.