Wayward to responsible media

Hasan Naser is a journalist from Pakistan and working with NewsChannel 5 on a three-week assignment. He is sharing his thoughts about relations between U.S. and Pakistan and journalism practice in the coming days. He can be reached at hasan.naser.qau@gmail.com.

News television medium is relatively new in Pakistan. The life of private news channels is just over a decade old, and newsrooms make the same mistakes repeatedly.

But U.S. news broadcasts are older than Pakistan. To expect high standards of journalism overnight from Pakistani 24 hour news channels is asking too much from it. There is room for improvement, which is coming through trial and error.

The advent of private news channels on cable in Pakistan has brought revolution in the lives of people. There used to be only one state-owned and controlled TV channel, Pakistan Television Corporation, broadcasting "official truth." But the access to information was made possible by the mushrooming of private media channels. These news channels became instantly popular, and some, like GEO News, became household names.

The crew of these news channels were untrained in broadcasting, with the majority switching from print to on-air TV journalism. Some even tried to force print media rules on TV, like running stories without support of visuals. The bombardment of information with little or repeated visuals was dull, reflecting the infancy of news channels.

With time there has been phenomenal progress in terms of the infrastructure improvement and incorporation of latest technology in TV industry in Pakistan. From wireless mike to video walls, graphics machines, wireless jackets to Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNGS), the latest technology has made inroads in broadcast journalism. It has helped to improve the product, with the airing pf fresh footage, better graphics, and less emphasis on boring information.

However, there is also much to be desired in terms of high journalism standards. There is unhealthy competition between news channels in Pakistan.

Flashing news screen with breaking news has become a routine with channels. Going live for anything is not unusual. Red tickers do not stop for a minute during all day news coverage. All news is breaking news. Television news is more politics-oriented in Pakistan. Working with NewsChannel 5 in the U.S., I found out that it keeps people's issues on priority. The high politics is not really of its concern or featured only if it has local dimension.

The investment in TV gadgets is no competition when it comes to the safety measure of the journalists. As a reporter covering Red Mosque siege in Islamabad in 2007, I had absolutely no protection. The expectation from my channel was to get the best exclusive footage and information. Reporters and cameramen still suffer from the lack of safety in the coverage of terror-related incidents.

The accuracy means everything to a news outlet. NewsChannel 5 is true reflection of this. NewsChannel 5 is never in a rush to play the story without checking it from double-checking it. Credibility of the news channel pays in the long term.

Objective reporting has become the main casualty of news channels in Pakistan. Reporting is contaminated with biases, exaggeration, and personal opinions at times. Some journalists fail to distinguish between journalism and crusade reporting. At NewsChannel 5, objective reporting is on top of the agenda.

The influence of the owners is almost zero in U.S. newsrooms. No owner micromanages the news business because the owners understand that it is none of their business to interfere. In Pakistan, with the exception of Dawn Group, there is no media house whose owner does not interfere in news on daily basis.

This is not to say that U.S. media is perfect and Pakistani media is on the decline. If the local media coverage is issue-oriented, the mainstream U.S. media is merely reporting instead of holding the higher-ups in power accountable. This sounds similar to the statement-oriented journalism in Pakistan. The media role is of a watchdog.

Even the U.S. local media is too much focused on crime news. Sometimes it borders on sensationalism. No one is saying not to report the crime, but too much coverage of it is depressing for society. Local U.S. media is too focused on daily coverage. There is pressure on the reporters to come up with stories every day targeting different newscasts. There are no resources to support the investigative journalism at the local level because it requires resources, research and time.

It is said media is the mirror of society. It would be better to improve the society instead of blaming the mirror. Pakistan news channels can take a lot from U.S. media in order to become more responsible.

With time, maturity will dawn on the emerging broadcast news media in Pakistan.


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