Is press playing a useful role in Pakistan

Is press playing a useful role in pakistan


Friends, the question put to us merits very serious consideration in the state of affairs prevailing in Pakistan today. The Press has been rightly described as a great power. Now, as many of us may be aware, power is a double-edged weapon, capable of being used for good or evil, depending on the type of Person wielding it. A simple test to determine in what manner the power of the Press in this country has been used is to see how and to what extent the Press has been helpful in fighting against the trends which today threaten to disrupt the fabric of Pakistan’s public life. Among these the most prominent is a growing preference for violence displayed by the younger sections of our population, separatist trends, economic distress rising prices, etc. if we study carefully the treatment given by the Pakistani Press in general to these, we shall be inescapably led to the conclusion that the chief consideration which guides the working of the contemporary Pakistani Press is what is generally referred to as “news-value” which helps to boost the circulation.
This over-concern with news-value is very much evident in the alacrity with which our journalists pounce on news of violent agitations and demonstrations and the prominence they assign to such items, completely ignoring that by playing up such things they are playing into the hands of those who have a vested interest in promoting a climate of violence in the country. Similarly, any political adventurer who gets up to champion patently parochial interests are welcomed by the Press as “good copy”. The loquacity of ill-informed and worse-advised politicians, combined with improvements in means of communication has made the Press a powerful factor that influences price trends. Newshounds trained in the art of worming out “advance information” make haste to put their readers wise about impending state-control of or large-scale Government purchases of a particular item of daily consumption and before the day’s issue is sold out, that item disappears from the market. What is the moral of all this. Obviously it goes to show that our journalists, even though very much devoted to the cause of news-gathering, lack a sense of social responsibility and this makes them oblivious to the harmful impact their efficiency has on public life in Pakistan. I can, therefore, answer the question before us only with a ‘no’.


I am afraid my friend, Mr. No.1, has given much more credit to the Press than it deserves, if i may be pardoned for saying so, he has been rather unfair to journalists, imputing to them motives of which they cannot be suspected. He has tried to paint them as chartered libertines who seize upon every opportunity to promote distortions in our public life. From what he has said, it is obvious that he has greatly exaggerated notions of what a newspaper can and what it cannot do. A well-known principle of journalistic ethics is “Facts are sacred: Comment is free”. Journalists are not makers of history. They are only their chroniclers. Their function is to record faithfully the panorama of life as it passes before their eyes. If we are disturbed by the climate of violence pervading the Pakistan atmosphere, if we feel disgusted at the manner in which the weak-kneed policies of the government are feeding and strengthening separatist trends, if we see the rapacious trader and middleman seeking to turn to account popular distress, we must seek the causes within ourselves. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that we, as a nation, are in the grip of a crisis of character. What we find in the news columns of our favorite daily every morning is an enlarged reflection of ourselves. If we do not like to or cannot bear to look at it, we cannot really blame the news-sheet. We do not break the mirror if our face happens to be ugly. That would be childish. A mature approach would be to try to improve their image if we can. We should be thankful to whatever helps us to see ourselves as we really are. Our Press is doing that duty fairly well it is only trying to tell us that even in twenty-eight years, we, the individuals who make up the nation, or an overwhelming majority among us have not imbibed the responsibilities of freedom. It sounds notes of warning that unless we take ourselves firmly in hand; we are in danger of losing our hard-won freedom. If, instead of heeding the warnings and taking ourselves firmly in hand, we start blaming the one who acquaints us with our shortcomings, then God helps us. But to say that it is the Press which lacks a sense of social responsibility amounts to the pot calling the kettle black. The sooner we disabuse our minds of such self-deception, the better it would be for us. Otherwise, the only logical conclusion would be to have a controlled instead of a free Press. I am sure all of us, including my esteemed friend, Mr. No. 1, would agree that nothing could be more fatal to democracy. We have a free Press, which is performing not only a useful function but also a very vital function in the public life of Pakistan. Our answer to the question put to us must, therefore, be “yes”.
my esteemed friend, Mr. No.2 has compared the Press with a mirror. I am sure he must be aware that even mirrors do not always reflect a faithful image of the object placed before them. Some mirrors are so constructed that hey greatly distort the reflection. In the case of the Press in this country, that is we here the rub lies. If we insist on calling the Pakistani Press of today a mirror, we can at best call it a distorting mirror. My friend has quoted the maxim “Facts are sacred: Comment is free”. Let us for the sake of argument concede that our journalists do treat facts as sacred. But what about the manner in which those facts are presented. Thanks to the progress achieved in the arts of typography and display, the presentation of the news have become an art. I would suggest to Mr. No. 2 that for that reason, it has become necessary to revise the well-known apo the gm relied upon by him. It is in the manner in which news is presented that distortions creep in, or are deliberately perpetrated at times. To understand why it is so, we must go back a little, and examine the impact of freedom on the Pakistan I Press. Before the British left, the Pakistani Press, as a whole, was imbued with a sense of mission. That of being an ally in the fight for freedom against foreign rule. Once the foreigners left. The Pakistani capitalists moved in to take their place. Almost the first thing they did was to grab hold of the Press and to convert it into an instrument for securing a hold on the levers of political power so that they could indulge in economic empire-building with impunity. Thus, form being a, the Press was reduced to being an industry. No wonder the journalist of today feels concerned more with news-value which can bring more sales than with any idealistic consideration. One with any pretensions to having a social conscience will most probably be a misfit in a Pakistani newspaper office today because, in the changed circumstances, he will be required to keep one eye on sales, which he may not always find it possible to do.
Though this is the situation we are facing, it is by no means an ideal situation. The Fourth Estate in this country has to be rescued from the blight which has overtaken it, so that our newspapers can fill their legitimate role. I must join issue with my friend, Mr.No.2 when he says that gentlemen of the Press are no more than mere chroniclers. No. They are something more than merely the eyes and ears of the nation. They are also the path-finders who light the way for the masses. But they cannot come into their own unless they regain their freedom. For the present, they are no better than mercenaries engaged in serving vested interests and as such, they cannot and do not fill any useful role in the public life of the country.


 Friends, My able predecessor has tried to condemn the Pakistani Press and the journalists who man it on three counts. He has preferred the charge that the presentation of news in our newspapers is colored. He has sought to make out that it could not be otherwise when the newspapers have come to be owned by capitalists who have other axes to grind. He has said that by becoming mercenaries, the Pakistani journalists have lost heir freedom of action. Let us briefly examine the validity of these charges before we see what can be said in support of the other viewpoint. The progress achieved in the arts of typography and lay-out has helped to make the newspapers of today much more attractive and brighter than they were three or four decades ago. These technological improvements have enabled journalists to assign the proper degree of prominence to each news item as it comes to be handled by them. To say that typography and display are always used merely to present a distorted version of news is a vague and unfair generalization.