With great powers – comes the need for common sense
The media can play its due role in a society and state
when it strictly adheres to the ethical and professional codes
and exhibits an abiding respect for the laws and the constitution.
The constitutional provision for freedom of expression and media is in consonance with the internationally recognised role of the states to regulate all the entities within its territorial limits in such a way that they contribute to the strengthening of the state, its ideological moorings, national interests and the moral values of the society with a view to promote peace and tranquillity in the country. In fact there is no concept of unbridled media freedom in the world and rightly so. Media represents the society and consequently is regarded as the fourth pillar of the state. It is universally recognised that freedom comes with responsibility. The media in any state has to exhibit sense of responsibility while enjoying its freedom.
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 emphasised 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. Ethical and professional codes of conduct for the media drawn up by UNESCO, International Federation of Journalists, Media associations, Press Councils in the countries where self-regulatory arrangement is in place and the code of ethics which forms the part of Press Council Ordinance in Pakistan invariably espouse the principles of the Social Responsibility Theory propounded by Hutchison Commission.
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 comes 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 revolutionised 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 on 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 its 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 social responsibility that goes with the freedom of expression. The media, regrettably, like the political polarisation 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.
Nevertheless it goes to the credit of the government that it has not put any curbs on the media notwithstanding the erratic and in some cases, even a negative role by certain sections of the media, particularly the electronic channels. Rather it is engaged in a process of consultations with the media representative bodies for strengthening freedom of expression. Access to Information Bill passed by the senate recently is a testimony to the media-friendly credentials of the government. It is also working on a legislation to promote welfare of the journalist community and ensuring a safe and secure working environment for them, for which it is again seeking input from the media organisations. It is also working on a strategy for capacity building of the journalists through training courses for them at the Information Service Academy.
In a democratic entity, the government is no doubt under obligation to provide an enabling environment for the media and by the same token it is also the responsibility of the media as a representative of the society to compliment the role of the government in promoting wellbeing of the people and reinforcing social, cultural and democratic norms to create conducive environment for democracy to flourish. It is said that democracy and a free media are sine quo non for each other. The media can play its due role in a society and state when it strictly adheres to the ethical and professional codes and exhibits an abiding respect for the laws and the constitution. Therefore the media in Pakistan as a whole has to show sense of social responsibility by truthful reporting and avoiding sensational stuff, to safeguard its freedom and to earn the respect of the society.