A weekly newspaper in its editorial while trying to belittle the importance and credit earned by Prime Minister Imran Khan for his speech at the UN---in which he espoused the cause of Kashmir, unmasked the fascist countenance of Modi, sounded a warning to the world of the likely humanitarian crisis in IOK and tore apart the myth of Islamophobia--- also made a startling claim that the Saudi Arabian crown prince snubbed Imran Khan by calling his plane back from Canada to New York because he felt so alienated by some aspects of his diplomacy in New York and his interlocution with Iran without his explicit approval. A government spokesman categorically dismissed the report saying “It is totally false and carries no truth whatsoever” The statement regretted that the article was aimed at sabotaging Pakistan’s core national interest of brotherly relations between the two countries.

Even a cursory glance at the editorial and its tone and tenor not only gives an impression of cynical evaluation of Prime Minister’s sojourn to USA but also reinforces the claim of the government spokesman about the report being false and an attempt to sabotage the outcome of the visit. Attributing to Saudi Crown Prince something without him having given any hint about it, is the most irresponsible thing to say the least. Reports that Prime Minister will visit Saudi Arabia soon followed by a visit to Iran, also nullify the impression given by the newspaper.

The media while playing its role to inform, educate and entertain is also under obligation to make sure that the discharge of this national duty was done with utmost responsibility. That responsibility entails checking the authenticity of the information purported to be passed on to the target audience and also weighing the implications of making revelations which could have negative consequences.

Almost all codes of ethics adopted by Media representative bodies as well as the International Federation of Journalists make it obligatory on a journalist to seek truth and report it, stress the obligations to report accurately, urge testing the accuracy of sources, call for seeking out all sides diligently, advise not to use undercover or surreptitious means to obtain information and above all expect him to minimize harm.

It is my considered view that the newspaper failed in its duty to seek out all sides diligently. Before going ahead to make the information public it should have checked with the government to know its version if in its judgment it was absolutely necessary and in the public interest to reveal the information. The other aspect is the repercussions or the harm that the revelation of information can cause.

The journalists and media represent the society and it is obligatory on them to protect and safeguard its ethos, social and cultural values as well as the vital state interests. They need to exercise utmost care in regards to sensitive issues like relations between states and in our case particularly with Saudi Arabia with whom Pakistan enjoys very special bonhomie and which has always helped her in times of diversity and difficulties. In the backdrop of the present regional and global environment, the obligation to report on relations between the two countries requires even more caution and responsibility.

Nobody in his right mind would ever grudge freedom of expression. But the fact is that nowhere in the world there is unbridled freedom of expression. That freedom also enjoins responsibility. The Social Responsibility Theory propounded by Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchison, Vice Chancellor of Chicago University who headed Hutchison Commission formed in US in 1942 to make recommendations on the freedom of expression and media’s obligations towards the society--- in the backdrop of growing calls by the US public for government intervention to check the indiscretions of the media and attempts by the media to avoid incisive government regulation--- remarked “freedom comes with responsibility:

The report of the Commission submitted in 1947, is regarded as the Magna Carte of the modern concept of freedom of expression and media’s responsibilities towards the society. It unequivocally emphasized the need for media to provide accurate, truthful and comprehensive account of events, act as a forum for exchange of comment and criticism, present and clarify goals and values of the society and make sure that it projects a representative picture of the constituent groups of the society. The report also reiterated the fact that society and public have a right to expect high standards of performance and as such intervention can be justified to secure public good.

One of the hall marks of democratic system is the freedom of expression and the space that is provided to dissenting views and opinions expressed by different sections of the society. For the democratic system to function to its full potential, the participation on the part of the general masses is imperative which in turn requires dissemination of reliable information to the masses on various public issues. This is where the mass media come in.

Mass media in its different forms has influenced human lives in the modern era. They have primarily provided information and entertainment to people across their respective countries and globally as well. Print media being the leader over a considerable period of time is now faced with competition from the electronic media which is reshaping many of the social responses. Radio apart from providing news and views has also developed a penchant for entertainment thereby getting a lot of acceptance. There is also now a new media with internet being its flag bearer. Internet has actually revolutionized and made it possible to disseminate information and ideas in real time across the globe. These developments are feared to have posed threats to the democratic way of thinking and new issues in regards to expanding role of the media have also come to the fore. The media has become quite unwieldy making it difficult for the governments to act as a watch-dog against the indiscretions committed by it. This however has made it even more imperative than before for the governments to make sure that the media does not cross the Rubicon, with all it accompanying negative fall-out.

Judged on the touchstone of the foregoing, the media landscape in Pakistan presents a very dismal picture. While it zealously tends to maintain and protect its freedom, it is not showing the sense of responsibility that goes with the freedom of expression. The media, regrettably, like the political polarization in the country, is also divided into anti-government, pro-government, and rightist groups with each entity trying to rub-in its own skewed and partisan views on national issues and even resorting to smear campaigns against their supposed rivals. Consequently truth and social responsibility have become casualties of this rampant media culture. For the media to enjoy freedom of expression and act as a fourth pillar of the state in the real sense, it requires serious rethinking on its role and adherence to the ethical and professional codes recognized universally.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

ashpak10@gmail.com

The media while playing its role to inform, educate and entertain is also under obligation to make sure that the discharge of this national duty was done with utmost responsibility.