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RACE FOR RATING

January 31, 2017

When it comes to the electronic media in Pakistan, the less said the better. A platform that could have very well been used to propagate the values of justice and accountability often finds itself in hot waters over an incessant reliance upon sensationalism in lieu of objective reporting. An accelerating rat race to be the first channel to break the news, which is in turn driven by the pursuit of ratings, has managed to push all so-called “news” organisations further along the irresponsibility spectrum.

This crusade to appeal to as many ‘consumers’ as possible has not only significantly undermined the credibility of the country’s broadcast media but also adversely impacted its authority to shape public opinion. Bright breaking news, exaggerated animation, unverified reports and questionable analyses can be seen blasting on one TV channel after another whenever any national tragedy surfaces. There remains no doubt that such adversities need to be highlighted and broadcasted in a comprehensive manner to better inform the viewers.

Nevertheless, the glaring manner in which the editorial decisions regarding the accuracy of the coverage is largely overlooked narrates a saddening tale about the impending demise of TV journalism. This is not to say that people would stop watching TV channels anytime soon. As long as they continue attracting eyeballs that in turn determine their share of the advertisement pie, these organisations would continue functioning; might even earn profits. The constant obliteration of journalistic values and basic ethic at the hands of widespread commercialisation would, however, continue to — as it already has — devolve informed viewership into consumers hungry for sensational news.

If similar dedication and hard work put to use in preparing graphic montages were plied to boost the national morale by talking about the humanity in times of horror, the country’s electronic media would have gained considerably more respect and following. As if such ratings-driven coverage had not done enough harm, the innumerable so-called analyses of political proceedings in the country are a tragedy in themselves. While talking at length about the causes and implications of the much-discussed political crises would have benefitted the public at large, the provision of air time to over-enthusiastic representatives from opposing political parties is an easy and oft-seen phenomenon. Given the frequency of fiery exchanges of allegations — which can even develop into physical attacks — between these politicians, it is not surprising that the country has grown quite immune to such outbreaks. Electronic media in Pakistan can still learn a thing or two from its print counterpart where editorial policies and journalistic integrity still hold considerable ground. The country has remained steadfast in its journey from a single state-owned channel to a mushrooming platform that boasts of a new channel every now and then. However, this competition between media networks should have been utilised to better build their capacity to establish accountability. It is high time that the news anchors who have now become household names use their public standing to engage in debates that actually matter instead of mulling over the same masala. Only then can the country’s electronic media survive its ongoing quality decline and inevitable demise as the public cannot be enticed by sensationalism forever. *

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