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Is the media accountable in Pakistan ?

By Naveed Alam
January 28 2013





The press likes nothing better than reporting on corruption. When the media reports major corruption issues, particularly those involving government officials and other senior ruling party officials, the issue is treated with value and importance and creates discourse on the issue in communities. However, one aspect to note is that, is Pakistani media accountable to any department? Especially TV channels. And making themselves accountable, owning up to their mistakes and revealing their frailties to the outside world is not something journalists ever find easy. While journalists relish dishing out punishment to society’s sinners and big-shots, they are notoriously thin skinned when it comes to admitting their own mistakes. The failure of Pakistani media to be open and accountable is rightly identified as a symptom of arrogance and complacency. It is I believe one of the fundamental reasons why public trust in media and journalism has been losing its grip.

The concept and purpose of having three separate branches of government executive, legislative and judicial was developed to ensure balance beyond owing them each with enough power to be able to check the others. Due to the ”nature” of humans, governmental powers need to be separated in order to make sure that ambition is not concentrated in one person or estate as it is under the more centralized monarchical states. And the fourth state pillar most commonly refers to the news media, especially print journalism or “The Press”. However, in Pakistan the fourth state media concept is not the same as in United Kingdom and The United States. The power of the media to shape opinion and influence events in Pakistan is now taken for granted. Reflecting this perception, there is an expanding discussion about its role and responsibilities.

There is no doubt that media played a vital role in curbing corruption in the past few years. With the preface of these TV channels and News papers , journalists have revealed many important scams. Among them the most distinguished are Pakistan Steel Mill’s, Hajj corruption case And rental power case which recently resulted with the arrest orders  of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.  On the other hand , corruption  has become an integral part of Pakistani journalism. The monopoly, (i.e. by supporting corrupt leaders and setting an agenda) corrupt journalists exercise over the profession constitutes a challenge for all media practitioners, because their influential positions make it hard for others to do their jobs properly.

The rise of sensationalist media and yellow journalism (Blackmailing) in Pakistan has led to the emergence of a debate in the country about the accountability of the media and the journalistic profession. Many believe that beat reporters, desk editors and programme anchors at the leading English and Urdu newspapers and TV channels in Pakistan are reluctant to publish news stories without receiving some sort of gift or reward. Even anchors and politicians blame each other for “Lifafa”(bribery) journalism on live TV programmes. Bribes in the shape of currency appear to be the quickest way to get an article and story published.

Some media giants in the world are responding with an increase in transparency about their work and their activities. While studying in Brunel University London I got an opportunity to visit Reuters news agency and Aljazeera (English) regional offices. The first thing we (group of students) received at reception desk was a hand book of Code of Ethics and Conduct of Journalism . Despite of their international news coverage I strongly believe that BBC and the Guardian are good examples of accountability. Particularly, the Guardian which conducts an annual “Social, ethical and environmental audit.” I wonder if any Pakistani media group even has a handbook of media ethics and audit., let alone implementing on that code of ethics. It is like a dream of rain in a desert.


Journalists should realize that they are not a court of law but an important arm in the promotion of good governance . Nevertheless, how well media can perform the role of a watchdog on corruption depends on a number of factors defined by the political, economic and legal environment in which media operates. Media freedom of expression, access to information, ownership, competition, credibility and outreach are some of the key factors that have been identified as affecting the quality and effectiveness of media performance on corruption. As a journalism student I realize that democracy, army and judiciary is on track in Pakistan. We can argue on their roles, credibility and public trust but still despite all the different arguments these institutes are at least on right path. Unfortunately, media is not following them. Most of  media giants especially TV channels are not on the right route. News channels are in essence entertainment  plus news, like killing two birds with one stone. Indian media was famous to host comedy shows and songs on news channels but now Pakistan is joining the brigade too. It might not be a wonder one day if BBC and Aljazeera also telecast comic shows and news with songs.

Naveed Alam: A freelance journalist, Naveed is pursuing International Journalism at Brunel University. He has also worked with Express News and he tweets as @nido99

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