Sunday, January 2, 2011

Press Freedom in Pakistan – A Fading Illusion

There can be no press freedom if journalists exist in the conditions of corruption, poverty or fear” states the International Federation of Journalists, an organization working for the welfare and wellbeing of Journalists and Journalism around the globe.

Being a Journalist in Pakistan is not an easy job. Not in the least of ways. According to IFJ, only in the year 2010, 15 media members have lost their lives in the line of duty. Bomb attacks, target killings, conflicts, cross fires and the list goes on.

Infact, they went a step ahead and termed Pakistan as “the most dangerous zone in the world for Journalists”. The number of casualties in Iraq is only 6, less than the half of what we have.

Needless to articulate the lack of all three of the prerequisites, press freedom in Pakistan is merely an illusion well-engineered by the Media Tycoons, Government and the Head Honchos of the Media world. Caught in this fantasy are the local journalistic associations and bodies working under the banner of liberty of speech and interests of Journalists.

'Safety of journalists' is the hottest of topics in these circles. As broad as it may sound, it mostly dictates acquiring the ‘bullet proof jackets, getting the health and life insurances and the wage board awards’. Seminars are arranged, aggressive speeches are delivered, discussions are conducted, and ideas are conceived. But then comes the Lunch or the Dinner and implementation is lost somewhere between the feast and festivities of the event and what actually comes out is only the ‘when and where’ of next colloquium.

The other issues such as TV channels overloading their news bulletins with ultra-emotional crap, flushing every bit of ethics, rocking the journalism to it core and the society getting desensitized are least of concerns in such congregations. Come to think of it, who would want to confront the sightless and senseless race of breaking news amid media groups and the fact that more than 300 journalists have been fired from various organizations without any reason, when they can have a friendly chat with a Minister while sipping on their cappuccinos?

National Press Club claims to be the epicenter of journalistic activities and their concern for the welfare of common journalists is widely publicized. The ‘stature of the concern’ was clear as daylight when a fellow journalist who lost his younger brother in Islamabad air crash, approached NPC to conduct a Press Conference on behalf of the victim’s families and was offered a spot of 1 hour for 12 thousand rupees only, with an unprecedented discount of 2 thousand rupees.

The idea here is not to bash the said associations for what they do – but for what they don’t. Providentially, within the journalistic community, there’s hardly anybody around to do that. Everybody seems to be affiliated with the said groups in some way or another. A perfect case of “who would guard the guards” if you ask me.

On the other side, surfing on the high tides of trendy journalism, are the Tycoons of media industry. Armed with ‘new and improved’ tools of mass communication and the motto ‘no news sells like the bad news’, they are all set to give the viewer ‘what they want’ instead of ‘what really is’. Unfortunately, amidst these new trends of Journalism, Breaking News, News Updates, Taiz Bulletins and sensationally melodramatic blown out of proportion news reports, the Truth is lost.

But they cannot be blamed, can they? Media owners are mostly the hot shot Businessmen and they are in the ‘media trade’ either to earn more money or to have a shot at playing King Maker.

Doing their biddings are the ‘Head Honchos’ of media industry, the most elite few, the most privileged, so called the ‘Senior Journalists’ designated as Directors of News and Current Affairs. These Directors, more like the Directors of film industry, work their backs off to make sure that the content produced is rated and evaluated on the scale ‘Sellable’ instead of ‘True and Ethical’. They assemble meetings with Bureau Chiefs, Correspondents, Reporters, Producers and Editors, stage presentations, present theories, arrange informal trainings and even distribute written content to ensure ultra-sensational and emotional dramatic and rather theatrical far from reality news bulletins and talk shows.

I have personally attended the ‘trainings’ in which the only thing presented was ‘how to gain attention of viewer to improve ratings by shouting like crazies and beating emotional drums’ and ofcourse nothing like ‘whipping the incompetent Government’ to get viewer’s interest, no?

In this whole scenario, a real world ‘Sahafi’ is somewhat like a hamster on a rather big hamster wheel, spinning out of control. Whereas media companies are somewhat like the kids playing with it, forcing it to run even faster, just to put on a better show.

If that’s freedom, then free we are indeed!

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