The media, whether print or electronic, exists as a watchdog in the public interest. This role has become doubly important at a time when so many state institutions seem to be crumbling all around us. Therefore, it is certainly a black day when it is the media itself that chooses the path of irresponsibility and erroneous reporting. In the race for ratings in a market driven by the frenzy to be first with ‘breaking news’, our electronic and some parts of the print media falsely reported a Lahore High Court (LHC) short order, which arguably opened up these media outlets to the charge of contempt of court. Reporting that the LHC had stopped the federal government from presenting a bill in parliament seeking amendments in the Blasphemy Law, the media forgot to do its homework. The LHC had, in actuality, stated in reply to the petitioner’s plea for maintenance of the status quo, and in the light of the Deputy Attorney General’s submission that no such bill has been introduced, that no further order was called for at this stage. This is decidedly different from what the media was reporting at a feverish pitch.
All it took was one media source taking the lead with this bogus story and all other media groups followed suit. No one bothered to check the facts or the order itself and no one practiced keen editorial judgement nor did they exercise the ethics that are required in the line of duty. Nor did any of the erring outlets find it necessary to offer an apology for the glaring blunder. It must be said here that court reporting is far more demanding in reporting the facts as they are, rather than sensationalising the pronouncements of the courts merely to help drive up ratings. Sadly, it does not seem as though the media has learned any lessons from past slip-ups. In the end, a continuation of such irresponsibility will only hurt the credibility of the media itself.
A competent forum must exist for the redress of the grievances of citizens and institutions against wrong reporting. Media outlets must organise and put into effect self-regulating bodies where such instances are dealt with and the complainants are reassured that the media too is held accountable. Although such bodies exist on paper, they need to be made functional.
Further, the media must note that its freedom has been hard won. By not using this freedom and the power the communications revolution has conferred responsibly, we may just be taken back to a time when the only information available for public consumption was the officially certified truth. One hopes the realisation dawns before it is too late that the free media, if restraint and responsibility are not practiced, may just be digging its own grave.