- And an impartial fourth pillar of state
Malcom X, a former American Muslim Minister and Human Rights activist, declared media as a center of great power, stating:
The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty, and to make the guilty innocent and that is power. Because they control the minds of the masses.
It is an open secret; whoever controls the media, controls the mind.
Putting aside all the odds in Pakistan, now with a new government promising change sworn in, the relevant ministry must take initiatives to ensure that independent media channels put their freedom to appropriate use. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has already stated that the Prime Minister Imran Khan has called to end political censorship of PTV. The PM has also held a meeting with the owners of media houses, and sought their help in educating the public on austerity drive. A step not only aimed at creating awareness among the public to drive the desired behaviour, but also an acknowledgement of media’s significance in reforming a society.
Prior to the freedom of media PTV was the only source of passing on the information to the masses. The state controlled channel, therefore, remained a medium for the corridors of power to shape public perception(s) via provision of thoroughly screened information. Pro-status quo version of information, that is.
And to control the flow of information, perhaps, remained a primary cause behind the containment of free media in Pakistan for over half a century; since it kept the public blindfolded to the bitter realities of state governance.
Today the independent media however, ironically, owes its inception to a military dictator rather than presumed democratic forces. It was during the reign of General Musharraf that media gained its long-due freedom, and the public finally earned its right to gain access to un-tampered information.
Only an impartial media can contribute towards building a positive, well thought-out, mature and rational public perception of the existing, and prevailing truth
In the wake of this newly earned freedom, the power once withheld by the state to shape public’s opinion, and mind was transferred to the media. With this endowment, the media earned its well-deserved designation as fourth pillar of the state along with the legislative, executive, and the judiciary.
But with great power comes great responsibility. And this is precisely where the media has fallen short of playing its due role. While the media has been overly zealous in protecting its freedom, and goes great lengths in reporting the not-so-obvious, it has apparently been negligent of behaving responsibly.
Responsible conduct here primarily relates to impartiality. As impartiality is expected from the executive, primarily comprising of bureaucracy and military, and the judiciary at all levels, media is also not absolved of putting in its due share. It is the responsibility of the media to portray the information from all possible angles instead of one that either serves self-interest, or that of any particular political entity, and power bearer.
While there have always been concerns with respect to media practicing responsibility, and impartiality in its conduct, the recent past has seen the gravest excesses. The political inclinations have never been this obviously prevalent in media as in the past few years that marched up to the General Election 2018. In both, pre and post-election scenario, certain media houses literally ended up running campaigns for certain popular political entities, while depriving others of even expressing their opinion.
The media is not meant to present, and promote publically popular political agenda that earns them a higher rating. Rather to provide a level playing field for facts to prevail. Something that can only be achieved by inviting opinions and viewpoints from across the board followed by an independent analysis.
The uncalled for political inclinations remind us of the state governed media times. It looks like the outdated version of media has found its long lost siblings! Courtesy their tilted political stance. Whether towards the government, or the opposition.
Not to say that media as an institution lacks impartiality, but leading media houses resorting to an inclined point of view can equally prove detrimental to the cause of credible information dissemination. Subject to popular-agenda-based journalism, the media very well becomes vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of non-democratic forces internally, as well as international game changers from across the borders. Ultimately jeopardising national interests, security, and stability.
In democracies, public perceptions shape the future, and media shapes the public perceptions. It is imperative for the media house owners, and journalism flag bearers to realise the critical nature of their role, and the need for incorporating impartiality in order to deliver effectively.
Only an impartial media can contribute towards building a positive, well thought-out, mature and rational public perception of the existing, and prevailing truth. A guided one is certainly a powerful additive to national, democratic, and constitutional stability. On the contrary, a misguided public perception can lead to the downfall of the entire government apparatus, and system.
For it is public perception that holds the power to make or break governments and systems. The role of media as an impartial one is, therefore, critical.