Fake News and Media Credibility in Pakistan
Islamabad, 01 June: No doubt that free media is mandatory for any democratic society but a responsible and professional media which recognises its boundaries and plays the role of a watchdog keeping in view the fundamentals of journalism and adhering to the norms and ethos of the profession. But unfortunately today Pakistan is afflicted with the disease of fake news. Fake news spreaders are not only upstarts and wannabes but some very established journalists. Objectives could be myriads ranging from niche value, financial benefits, influence and inflated egos. They end up causing more harm than any good. Social media in particular has become a battle ground for these adventurers and bounty hunters. And the battle cry is “No holds barred”. Casualty is the state of Pakistan.
When we consider credible news what are we looking for? The source, supporting sources, author, how reliable the sources are and if the story is available on other media outlets. Does the author quote reputable sources and provide details to support the story?Not the case in Pakistan. No doubt the journalist is entitled to protect its source but frequently quoting unnamed sources could render the news story questionable and devoid of credibility. Sensational headlines with inherently un-researched topics in evening talks shows have become the hallmark of Pakistan’s media landscape. Talk shows, in most cases, are filled with wild allegations, conspiracy theories, shouting matches, barbs flying in nightly talk shows with anchor not looking glum but in fact enjoying the proceedings with keen eye on the ratings. Anchors are keen to be seen as media icons, suffering from overblown arrogance and conceit. They are judge, jury and executioners. They believe they could mould the public opinion not on the basis of well researched credible news story but on the basis of vested interests, allegiance and and wishes of the pay masters. Anchors are more enthusiastic to be seen as analysts rather than anchors with focus on heresy rather the curated news content, shouting with shrilled voices ignoring all norms of serious journalism.
Media in the west especially in the United Sates is divided on the basis of their ideological leaning. For example Fox News, News Max, Breitbart, OAN (One America News Network) among others fall in the category of right or far right while New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, Daily Beast and AP among others are considered the Left leaning media. Now what are the media fault lines in Pakistan? Ironically we have media houses built and guided by business empires not for serious journalism but promoting and protecting their entrepreneurial interests as is evident with the heavy presence of traders, shopkeepers, businessmen and industrialists like the goldsmiths, cooking oil and clothing manufacturers on the list of medias owners, to name few. Nothing wrong to be a businessman to own a media house but in such cases these media houses are run by professional CEOs and boards of governor etc. not on the basis of whims, likes and dislikes of the concerned businessman and where anchorpersons decide their topics for evening talk shows keeping supreme the financial interests of the owners with no editorial brainstorming for news and analyses. Anchors, with few exceptions, with little or no knowledge of complex issues of economy, foreign policy, national security, defence and geostrategic paradigms, are operating on media landscape, predominantly focusing on Pakistan’s politics further muddying the waters.