Media Facing New Challenges

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Gauhar Zahid Malik (Executive Editor)

As Pakistan Observer is celebrating its birthday, Pakistan is experiencing a media boom from an explosion of somewhat more independent newspapers and broadcast outlets to the emergence of completely different forms of information sharing the “new media.”

But with that boom comes creeping homogenization of content, the “dumping down” of programming and an emphasis on showbiz and entertainment over public affairs.

Different platforms mean more channels of distribution but with that increasing homogenization of content is occurring. Even public welfare programming has been dumped down. What sells is showbiz, entertainment, supernatural stories, scandals and corruption stories.

In short, it will not be wrong to say that the media n Pakistan today is caught between the “Tiger and the Crocodile,” a metaphor that might be likened to between a rock and a hard place.

The two main pressures are the circumstances, which have traditionally exerted strong influence over the media in Pakistan, and the marketplace, with their own dictates and requirements.

Those who hope the best for the news media at this critical juncture must embrace new technologies, new ways of thinking and changing media regulation regimes.

A big change is citizen journalist, blogging, cell phone reports and pictures (through SMS and MMS) and other forms of electronic democracy.

Those (new forms) are not going to replace, but will take their place alongside the old journalism and even journalists as gatekeepers are losing (sole) control of the information flow. Pakistani media is emerging fast from the era of State control to become free, independent, useful and relevant? Experts agree that it’s possible, but only if those who control the established media freely embrace the technological and social changes that are coming to the information universe.

Media struggle to expose scandals: Braving tight traditional controls on the media, few but skilled investigative reporters of Pakistan are emerging as a tough new breed of journalists. Pakistan’s investigative journalists have helped expose cases of massive corruption, scandals, human rights violations, environment and public health and safety concerns. But while a section of the media evades strict censorship and publishes stories, others ignore it and a large proportion of investigative stories never see light of the day.

Access to Freedom: Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right recognized in Article-19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Press freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people by giving people the information that can help them gain control over their own lives.

Technological advances for example the Internet allow the media to reach more people in more places, allow people to share their opinions more readily and allow information to flow across borders. According to international experts these are huge benefits. But freedom of information, and online information, alone do not guarantee access. People also need the Internet connectivity and IT resources to use that information to access national and international news or to provide a plurality of media options, including community radio. Even more fundamentally, they need to have the capacity to use these tools and this can only come about through the universal provision of quality education and promotion of multilingualism.

Information can change the way we see the world around us, our place in it, and how to adjust our lives in order to maximize the benefits available through our local resources. Fact driven decision-making can significantly alter our political, social and economic perspectives. The right to access information can be interpreted within the legal frameworks that support freedom of information as it applies to information held by public bodies, or in a wider sense to encompass both access and circulation of informing held by other actors, where it becomes intrinsically linked to freedom of expression.

Freedom of information and transparency it promotes, has a direct consequence on fighting corruption, which in turn has a tangible impact on development.

In Pakistan, the media is fast realizing that the new technology can provide enormous information benefits, but needs to be underpinned by measures that empower people to make use of it.

The State and the society have lately realized the need for a commitment to removing all obstacles to press freedom, improving the conditions for independent and professional journalist and empowering citizens to engage in public debate is essential.

The practicalities of access freedom of information does not guarantee access. Even if governments were to become models of disclosure through e-governance by putting their information online, without a means to access that information people would not be more empowered. Internet connectivity and IT resources have become crucial to unhindered access to information. This is also true for accessing national or international news or even simply to provide a plurality of media options.

If the absence of connectivity or equipment can highlight the digital divide and the ensuring knowledge gap that separates developing and developed countries, groups within a country can also become further marginalized by their inability to access information on the Internet. Ensuring freedom for the media around the world is a priority. Independent, free and pluralistic media are central to good governance in democracies that are young and old.

Free media can ensure transparency, accountability and the rule of law; they promote participation in public and political discourse and contribute to the fight against poverty. An independent media sector draws its power from the community it serves and in return empowers that community to be a full partner in the democratic process.

Freedom of information and freedom of expression are the founding principles for open and informed debate. New technology will continue to evolve and allow citizens to further shape their media environment as well as access to information and citizen participation in media can only contribute to an increased sense of ownership and empowerment.

However, media persons face threats to their lives as well. Over the last few years, media in Pakistan has been facing the new threat of terrorism. A number of journalists sacrificed their lives but everyone must admit that media played a central role in arousing public opinion against the menace of terrorism which is a good sign for a brighter future of the country.

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