Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where the electronic media industry has mushroomed over a relatively short period of time. But, perhaps, it is only country where the professional standards in this very industry have declined so rapidly. We can easily trace the various shades of journalism, from yellow to red, in Pakistan that are hardly compatible with known professional and ethical standards in mass media. So we have the unique distinction of evolving this ‘full-spectrum journalism’ in the country.

Soon after his recent ouster, former PM Nawaz Sharif declared that he would be an ideological politician in the future. Interestingly, mass media in Pakistan switched over to ‘ideological journalism’ long ago, after readily abandoning the recognised principles of media professionalism, impartiality and objectivity. Now a considerable segment of the media in Pakistan, especially the electronic media, is proactively pursuing and advancing their corresponding ideological narratives in the country. This practice has resulted in splitting electronic media into the pro-government and anti-government segments. In fact, this ‘ideological polarisation’ is now one of the characteristic features of mass media in Pakistan.

Pro-government TV channels often pretend to be pro-democracy, considering the rule of incumbent PML-N government crucial to strengthen democratic institutions in the country. On the other hand, anti-government TV channels are essentially pro-establishment, and sometimes pro-PTI. They are best known for their hostility towards the PML-N which represents the political status quo in Pakistan. Besides the full-fledged media houses, a large section of TV show anchors, analysts and political commentators have also fallen prey to this media polarisation in their individual capacity. Now they are extensively employing tools of social media, in addition to mainstream media, to propagate their viewpoints.

While pursuing their ‘goals’, these journalists hardly bother about things like media ethics and objectivity. This practice has readily transformed electronic media into mere a tool of propaganda. This media schism has reached an extent that they have started using derogatory terms for each other. Based on this nomenclature, most of the journalists in the media industry can now conveniently be classified into the ‘Boot-polishers’ and the ‘Massage-therapists’. In this media conflict, professional and impartial journalists have been marginalised.

This sort of media polarisation started surfacing as soon as PTI staged its sit-in in Islamabad in 2014. It became more visible during the recent Panama case trial in the apex court. Almost all TV channels conducted parallel media trials, resulting in convicting or acquitting Nawaz Sharif on a daily basis. Nowadays, these channels are either justifying and rationalising the Panama verdict or simply trying to make this verdict quite controversial.

Besides state-run TV channels, a number of privately-owned TV channels are actively supporting the PML-N government and its current political and administrative policies. They defended NS during the Panama trial and severely criticise the PTI leadership. They are also smelling a conspiracy behind this case. This section of the media is now trying to portray NS a conventional political victim while disputing the credibility and moral integrity of PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the country.

Despite all their ‘intellectual dishonesty’, pro-government TV channels are apparently trying to retain their professional standards and impartiality to some extent. But regrettably, anti-government TV channels have somehow crossed the bounds of decency and reasonableness. Sometimes, they look just like the typical PTI activists on social media, who call NS a thug and Chor (thief). They have been more proactive than SC’s JIT during the Panama case proceedings.

There has been a significant addition in the anti-government pool of TV channels in the recent past. Raising the flag of patriotism and nationalism, a Karachi-based IT tycoon, whose software company has been quite controversial due to the fake-degree scam, has formally launched his much-hyped TV channel in Pakistan. This channel claims to be the real voice and face of Pakistan. It was being expected that this channel would be a positive addition to our media industry. But sadly, this channel has become the most-vocal protagonist of hate, bigotry, jingoism and anti-government rhetoric. Thus it looks more a tool of divisive propaganda than a means of mass communication.

This TV channel also constantly claims to be “Pakistan’s No. 1 channel”. So it has hired a large number of ‘No. 1’ TV show hosts and anchors. In this respect, the primary criterion for selection seems to be individual’s ability to criticise and curse PML-N. Instead of professional journalists, this ‘news channel’ prefers to hire persons known for their proficiency in the performing art and politics. Interestingly, as soon as one joins this channel, he/she instantly becomes Pakistan’s No. 1 anchor or analyst. On this channel’s screen, anti-PML- N politicians like General Pervez Musharraf, Asif Ali Zardari, and Yousaf Raza Gilani etc frequently appear to deliver extensive lectures on good governance, transparency and the rule of law.

In addition to NS, the country’s largest media house and its ‘unpatriotic’ owner mostly remain the primary target of the channel’s wrath. This channel hardly cares to adhere to recognised professional standards in the media. So without making any distinction between the news and analysis segments, it keeps pushing forward its narrative in accordance with its editorial policy. This narrative is equally propagated during the commercial-less breaks. So just like PTI, this TV channel also identifies Nawaz Sharif to be country’s primary woe, and the only hurdle in the way of making ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Disappointingly, at the moment, there is no such thing as media regulation in Pakistan. Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) is the only representative body for the electronic media industry in the country. However, just like print media bodies, namely APNS, CPNE, APFUJ; the PBA is also mostly interested in promoting its rights rather than identifying its professional duties. Similarly, PEMRA, the sole statutory regulator for electronic media, is absolutely incapable to regulate and oversee the stubborn media due to its inherent flaws, partisan character and excessive judicial intervention.

In the absence of any efficient defamation regime in the country, generally individuals have no remedy to enforce their rights in the courts of law against the wrongdoers in media. The aforementioned factors have jointly given rise to a hyperactive but unregulated media in Pakistan. This media now can readily defame and humiliate any individual or institution with impunity.

This excessive media schism is not doing any good service either to the journalism or the society. Instead, it has just brought a bad name to journalists as a class besides jeopardising their hard-earned freedom of expression. Moreover, this practice has also severely undermined the very institutional capacity of the media to inform and influence the masses to bring about any positive change in the country.