Orwellian dilemma, the power of media | By Asif Iqbal


Orwellian dilemma, the power of media

THE basic principles of journalism are truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability – impartiality and fairness actually add panache to the recipe and voila we have excellence in journalism.

Maintenance of similar journalistic standards in media (print, electronic and cyber) has all the more become quite imperative in today’s age.

To gain ‘add-on’ viewership and circulation, media is now prone to sensationalism, selective and biased reporting.

The same was evident from war in Iraq, initiated by the ‘God-fearing’ Bush, and was ‘legitimized’ by none other than the ‘responsible’ media despite the fact some objective journalists to the likes of Robert Fisk and Chris Hedges opposed it.

So was the case in the Arab-Israel wars from 1948 onwards and even now, when likes of BBC bend downwards and sideways to the wishes of their ‘paymasters’ and term Israeli naked repression and suppression as ‘conflict’ when all of it is just one-way.

The fear to be called and labelled as anti-semitic may have compelled BBC to be more ‘objective’ for not losing its audience and ‘credibility’. The question arises, what is left of the so-called ‘credibility’ when the reporting is biased.

It was the same BBC which sided Blair’s decision for war in Iraq in 2003 and then gave due coverage to his ‘sorrow and regret’ in 2016.

The Hutton Inquiry seemed more like a gullible attempt by the government to save itself from the stigma, but there is a general consensus amongst independent observers about the news coverage of the BBC, claiming it was clearly biased in support of the war and serving as a propaganda tool for the British government.

The BBC neither forgot nor forgave Robert Fisk and the sublime venom was evident in his eulogy with a tangy obituary from Jeremy Bowen.

Media itself is a power to reckon with and “with power comes responsibility”. On the other hand, ‘untruthful’ and ‘biased’ reporting with little concern for ‘public accountability’ provides the necessary ‘incentives’. In the ‘global village’, media has the access and tools to make or break a nation – the will to survive.

Hence, media is considered pillar of any state alongside, executive, legislature and judiciary. Media bias in political issues is more contentious and has the ability to create a divide in social fabric.

But why would media journalists would take the ‘fall from grace’ willingly? Money, fame and power comes to the mind and the lack of concern for public accountability takes a backseat – mediacracy (at times ‘correctly’ confused with mediocracy) wins.

Concurrently, any media when reports a story it has to report while remaining impartial otherwise the report becomes contentious and may be termed as policy of the state, if it is state owned, or policy of the media house, if it is privately owned.

Unbiased and impartiality is the hallmark of good reporting but sadly, the same has not been witnessed in the recent reports by BBC Urdu which have shrewdly involved military leadership by referring to COAS in the headline of story just to give it more spice, spin and twist.

The two reports, published 4 weeks apart, sensationalize the issue of two different individuals who happen to be sons of military officers.

Interestingly, both reports comprise more than three-fourth coverage of the so called ‘aggrieved’ whereas a portion, which is not even one-fourth,‘tries to explain’ the stance of the military.

In the recent story published on 26 November, Lt Col (Retd) Inamur Rahim (a so-called lawyer with shady background) happens to be the main source of the reporter whose credentials are quite doubtful as he appears to work in close coordination with the reporters who work on filing negative military sensational stories.

It would not be surprising, if such stories gain traction and some other stories are also brought to the fore where the good cop is portrayed as the bad cop.

It is all but natural that a thief would never accept his theft and his lawyer would always side with him, since he is being paid for the same reason. Same would be the case of any terrorist or its facilitator.

So what and whose purpose would it serve to report and print stories which seem biased at best? Does the reporter gain something from it? Has the media house asked the reporter to pursue such stories? Should a case already under review of judiciary be subject to media attention? Is there a loftier agenda at work to tarnish the image of Pakistan Army which despite all odds has remained steadfast and committed to fight the scourge of terrorism which has infested every segment of the society? Should not the BBC be appreciating Pakistan Army for cleaning its own backyard?

To add spice to the articles, military chief’s name appears in the heading followed by his picture, with sublime messages to align new conspiracy theories, as a forewarning to what is coming to haunt them; this adds panache to the new journalistic ethos, espoused by BBC. Military is portrayed as the most powerful and sway over the courts.

If this was the case, then BBC has to re-devise a theme since the courts continue to dress-down the military from time to time as is evident from recent rulings. In the words of Declan Walsh, “….its abilities are frequently overestimated”. Yet media houses like BBC and its affiliates do get their way around.

Irony is when reporter tries to refer story title to Army Chief for every trivial routine matter and has established a pattern of doing so in his stories to gain vested mileage.

Matters already being dealt by courts are sensationalized to give it a negative twist for earning credit for challenging the power no matter how shallow, weak and erratic the story may be.

Would not be startling to expect the recent BBC stories, to be pursued by own ‘ever-hungry vultures’ who have the ability to add their own spice to the recipe.

Anatol Lieven appraised “the media are just as addicted to conspiracy theories as the rest of Pakistani society” and “I have heard as many cretinous conspiracy theories about America from journalists as from ordinary Pakistanis …. to weave their fantasies… I must say that liberal journalists are just as bad, with the difference that their baroque conspiracy theories are directed at the Army.

” Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell would have been perplexed at this; he probably never anticipated that ‘Mediocracy’ of BBC would attain the despotic standards.

Likewise, it would not come as a surprise if the ‘golden words’ of the reporter who maliciously reported, while repeatedly tagging name of Army Chief in his stories, become part of Tilak Devasher’s new article or book on Pakistan and a documentary by BBC. Such stories do give rise to the “Orwellian” Dilemma.

Carl Bernstein was indeed apathetic when he said that “the lowest form of popular culture — lack of information, misinformation, disinformation and a contempt for truth or reality of most people’s lives — has overrun real journalism.”

—The writer is contributing columnist.

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