'Yellow journalism' and the curse of corruption in Pakistan's media
Corruption has become an integral part of Pakistani journalism and the monopoly corrupt journalists exercise over the profession constitutes a challenge for all media practitioners, writes Malik Ayub Sumbal
25 March 2011 By: Malik Ayub Sumbal
This article was first published by the European Journalism Centre and is reposted here with permission.
The rise of sensationalist media and yellow journalism in Pakistan has led to the emergence of a debate in the country about the accountability of the media and the journalistic profession.
Yellow journalism is generally defined as the tabloidisation of journalism – the adoption of reporting practices focusing more on sensationalism than on research. In Pakistan, yellow journalism refers mostly to the exploitation and manipulation of issues of national interest for the vested interests of corrupt journalists.
Corruption has become an integral part of Pakistani journalism. The monopoly corrupt journalists exercise over the profession constitutes a challenge for all media practitioners, because their influential positions make it hard for others to do their jobs properly.
The media is ideally perceived as the fourth pillar of the state (alongside the judicial, legislative and executive powers), but in Pakistan, most people have come to distrust the media and those who practise journalism.
The sensationalist aspect of newspapers and private news television channels and the problematic role they play in society raise increasing concern among the public.
Presently, Pakistanis are demanding that star anchors of various current affairs programmes and other journalists be held accountable for their actions. The media in general and yellow journalists are criticised on various platforms, Internet forums and television programmes. People also resort to wall chalking against the practice of yellow journalism and media exaggeration in the streets of major cities.
Corruption at the root of the problem
Beat reporters and desk editors at the leading English and Urdu newspapers in Pakistan are reluctant to publish news stories without receiving some sort of gift or reward. Bribes in the shape of currency appear to be the quickest way to get an article published.
Hassan Sardar, a public relations officer of a multinational company operating in Pakistan, said: "It is impossible to get coverage of a news event in any leading English-language newspaper without giving a bribe or a gift of some sort to the news editors and beat reporters."
Sardar explained that if he depended solely on the newsworthiness of a specific event, it would be virtually impossible to see the item in the press the next day.
Multinational corporations and NGOs appeal to senior reporters and editors by inviting them to various events. In order to receive attention on press clippings, NGOs and multinationals resort to bribing journalists. For the sake of news coverage, every organisation has a special budget specifically dedicated to this purpose.
Senior journalist, Matiullah Jan, has for the first time voiced a concern from within the Pakistani media about the accountability of journalists and famous television anchors, whose conduct in everyday life contradicts their public statements against yellow journalism.
Matiullah Jan, who exposed the journalists' corrupt practices and scandals in the Dawn News series "Apna Gareban", which started in January 2011, now faces a wave of criticisms from journalists' associations and unions.
Jan unveiled the questionable relationship that yellow journalists entertain with politicians and the privileges they have obtained from the present political regime.
He revealed that journalists and television anchors were illegally renting out the cheapest residential apartments in the expensive federal capital of Islamabad. He also exposed journalists who are receiving extraordinary favours and privileges from the government, thus abusing their position and undermining the profession.
Pakistani politicians keep loyal yellow journalists on their payroll and use them to misinform public opinion and promote their image in the public arena.
These practices are possible because journalists receive negligible salaries and several organisations fail to pay their reporters altogether, due to the financial crunch or simply as a result of poor management in the newspaper or media house.
Following Matiullah Jan's statements on television, the yellow journalism lobby became annoyed and took action by posting banners in Islamabad condemning the programme.
Jan said in reaction: "The majority of district correspondents and stringers of a number of dailies and news channels in Pakistan are associated with smugglings, burglaries and other criminal activities. The 'yellow' press provides them with a cover. They use their press cards to save their skins."
Jan went on to say that these so-called journalists "are using fake press cards to put pressure on law enforcement agencies and other governmental bodies". There are scores of 'dummy' newspapers in the country, without any real identity or even circulation, engaging in yellow journalism and blackmailing.
"If yellow journalism in Pakistan is not controlled, the whole profession will be ruined and lose its credibility", Jan argued.
Call for accountability
Saulat Raza, who heads the Mass Communication department of the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad, commented: "We discourage our students from getting involved with 'yellow' journalism, before releasing them into the media industry". He calls for strong defamation laws and other means to hold journalists accountable for their actions, as no-one should be above the law.
The students also have strong opinions against the practise of yellow journalism in Pakistan. Rizwan Ahmed, a student of Mass Communication, remarked: "Journalism is a noble profession and an occupation of great responsibility, but unfortunately it has been hijacked by the black sheep in our country. We should fight for objective journalism in Pakistan".
Sundus Ali, a researcher in an NGO based in Islamabad promoting media freedom said: "The yellow journalism elements in our media industry are increasing their numbers by the day. Despite our efforts to make this profession transparent, we are polluting it with policies and strategies which are anti-journalistic at the heart".
"There is a need for strong initiatives for the promotion of positive journalism, its ethics and its values", the researcher added.
Journalists should realise the importance of having a healthy profession. They should be reminded of their social responsibility and be discouraged from practising yellow journalism and publishing dubious news items.
There is a need for proper professional journalistic training in this part of world, carried out by objective and renowned organisations in the media industry.
Finally, there should be a code of conduct that binds all journalists and journalistic bodies, as well as strict defamation acts and laws.
The authorities have acknowledged the necessity of such measures, but they are reluctant to take necessary steps and till this day, nothing has been done to address the situation.
Malik Ayub Sumbal is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan, with a professional experience of more than seven years working for a number of national and international newspapers, magazines, journals, wire services and television channels. He is presently working as an investigative reporter and analyst for various English news radio stations, television channels and newspapers worldwide.
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