Three events occurred recently that exposed the fragile nature of Pakistani media and the total absence of any accountability in the society that is harming our societal behavior. The first two events happened in the UK but had a great bearing on Pakistani politics and norms that are followed in general. One, Reham Khan as expected lost the defamation case against Sayed Zulfi Bukhari and had to dish out 50000 pounds and to rub the nose in the dust a humiliating apology had to be issued by Reham Khan in video and on print.
It was expected as the ranting by Reham Khan was clearly without any base and was just a release of venom on her part. While on the other hand ARY the news network also lost the case against the former finance minister Ishaq Dar, rather unexpectedly and had to issue a clarification and apology for leveling charges without any hard evidence. It was unexpected for ARY to do that but considering the totally free for that we have in the media they probably exaggerated and likely went overboard in their claims and had paid the price.
The third incident, a bizarre one at best, was the claim by a female anchor
In a vitriolic and nasty manner, that the first lady of the country the wife of Prime Minister Imran Khan (she is apolitical by the way) practices black magic, and with some description of strange ritual proclaimed that the country is being run via black magic. The usual explosion in social media took place. The young supporters of the Prime Minister, hardly very calm & well behaved one, lost their cool and went after the journalist. The journalist, as expected, claimed impaired freedom of speech and a free for ensued.
The two decisions in the UK actually have really highlighted the lack of accountability in Pakistani media. Here the defamation cases never reach a conclusion. Thus, nobody is much bothered about defaming anyone or doing character assassination knowing that the toothless judiciary & totally useless defamation will ensure that nobody is punished. This also gives rise to a pushing of fake news which also escapes all punitive action. In the UK the media print and electronic, even the yellow sheets are very careful about remaining within the legality of defamation law. In fact, they are advised by a legal team about the vulnerability of any news or opinion to a legal case. The miraculous thing is that defamation cases actually conclude, and the guilty party is punished in the UK which results in careful handling by the media and self-accountability of their action.
In Pakistan a news anchor, supposedly a journalist can unabashedly take a questionnaire from a political personality or party to ask in an interview, set up an interview to allow certain opinions to be pushed, encourage participants to fight, abuse, shout and verbally and sometimes physically confront each other for the sake of rating, accuse without any evidence the sitting Prime Ministers wife to practice black magic, endorse car running on water, pass opinion on court cases being tried, accept government position which is salaried while doing opinion shows, go on pilgrimage sponsored by the sitting government, accept seriously subsidized petrol pumps and continue to do opinion shows, accept plots, go on sponsored foreign trips, take loans and get it written off, etc. The list is endless. The merits and demerits of all these actions need hardly be debated but one thing is sure that these disqualify them from being called journalists.
Reham Khan paying the price of her actions
The views for which Reham Khan had to dole out a fine of 50000 pounds and a series of humiliating apologies were also professed by a few journalists in a miniature caricature of Arnab Goswamis verbal explosion. The image produced suggested them as the only patriot in the country battling the dictator regime and putting their life at stake for taking a stand. After the UK courts punished Reham Khan it was expected they would apologize. How can that happen? They took full advantage of the dismal scenario of the Pakistan judicial system and the foregone conclusion that in Pakistan defamation cases only find the dustbin to rest. Nobody ever apologized in Pakistan and they did not either. Morality can go take a hike.
Social media has some latitude of being obnoxious. Accounts are not verified. People are not identified. Cyber-crime laws are ineffective. People hide behind identity and abuse. It’s hardly any difference between electronic and print media. In absence of strong defamation law, a weak judicial system and a laughable sense of self-accountability the media defame everyone. Here anchors can go to meet a criminal (the trial is still to be held) and on-camera slap the criminal, here an anchor can stand on the road stop cars for a traffic violation and ask people for their driving license, here anybody having a camera can barge in without any legal cover in any place to raid it, here they can on TV discuss all personal things even of people who are apolitical.
This situation can never improve without having strong defamation laws in place and taking defamation cases to a conclusion. Judiciary needs to wake up and take notice. Otherwise, it’s going to be even a worse mess than what it is now. While it can hardly be emphasized more than abusing Asma Shirazi is not on, similarly, the journalist community must also realize that defaming anyone is also not on.
The author has worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. He is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.