Pakistani media has adopted the role of making and shaping public perception often at the cost of national interests.
The role of media in nation-building can be gauged by the editorials of the leading English newspapers that even missed the 23rd March day. Minute Mirror Editor-in-Chief Ali Sajjad expressed these views while addressing a webinar titled ‘Role of Media in Nation Building’ on Wednesday. The webinar was organized by the Eilaf Club Lahore.
The former head of Punjab University Journalism Department Dr. Shafiq Jullandhry hosted it while its panelists included Mian Shahzada Ahmad Ali from Oklahoma, Abdul Qayyum Hijazi from California, Dr. Shabbir Sarwar from Punjab University, Editor Maria Sohail, Majeed Ghani and others. Ali Sajjad said that media owners had agendas that compromised impartiality, independence and fact-based reporting.
Media house policies are usually reflected in the news stories and editorials, which is against the basic principles of journalism. He said that 24/7, media had although revolutionized information dissemination, but its flow could not be regularized. The regulatory control always remained less stringent. There was more news reverberation, and right to information had also been compromised, he held.
Sajjad further said that when a journalist carried media owners’ mindset with him while muckraking, he could not produce impartial stories. “Breaking the news first” had also damaged the principles of journalism he/she had learnt during their 25 years in this field, he added. While reporting bomb blasts or rape cases, the media outlets often repeated the same stories. This trend often victimized the victim’s families. The drum beating of the Minar-e-Pakistan TikToker issue proved to be a different story when investigated.
Sajjad quoted a UK-based think-tank’s study about the Pakistani media, according to which there was only 17 percent English journalism while the rest 83 percent was other media like Urdu, digital or social media, adding that there was a vast space for English media to prosper. He said that his organization had arranged a comprehensive workshop for journalists at the Lahore Press Club, which was lauded by the journalistic community.
He said that he would sign an agreement with the London School of Journalism for the training of Pakistani journalists from across the media houses abroad. Moreover, there is a concept that newspapers are published only to catch public sector ads. They, for this purpose, promote public relations with political parties, sensationalize issues, commercialize interests and thus compromise the pro-Pakistani agenda.
Sajjad said that when he decided to launch Minute Mirror, he was told that the media industry was facing a severe financial crunch and there were layoffs. He said that he launched Minute Mirror with the motto to revive journalism and the journalists. His organization is paying 20 percent more in terms of salaries besides ensuring job security to the working journalists and the best working environment. He said that he never directed his reporting or newsroom sections to follow a specific agenda.
His paper was established on minutely observing the public impression minute by minute without compromising facts. “The rapid paper penetration in Punjab and Lahore has pushed us to launch the paper from Islamabad and Karachi as well,” he said while noting that the demand for newspapers in all sectors including the civil bureaucracy showed that balanced reporting brings fruits. The viewpoints of all the parties must be incorporated while filing news stories, he stressed. There was no room for yellow journalism when journalists were highly paid, he said while adding that media bias should stop pushing a specific viewpoint.
Speaking on the occasion, Mian Shahzada said that Ali Sajjad had truly introduced a true image of Pakistan abroad. He said that Minute Mirror’s motto and approach to journalism were idealistic. Meanwhile, Maria Sohail said that there would be challenges for true journalism in Pakistan and observed that media houses generally failed to build a national narrative, rather they promoted their own agendas.
On the occasion, Tauqeer Khan said that true journalism in Pakistan was like a jihad (fight), and Ali Sajjad was doing that. He said that Pakistan had a declared atomic arsenal but lacked skills to defend itself through media in the comity of nations. Minute Mirror had filled this gap in the national interest, Khan said.
Panelist Zain Khan said there were instances when some international organizations funded the media houses that set the agenda for them. He said that the need was to improve Pakistan’s image abroad and point out anti-state elements. Minute Mirror paints a pro-Pakistani picture. Dr. Shabbir Sarwar, meanwhile, said that Ali Sajjad had launched a national newspaper at a time when the industry was passing through a recession. He said that the golden principles set by the editorial policy were worth appreciation.
He said that the international narrative-building against Pakistan was done through different websites like Politico, Euro News etc. While concluding the session, Dr. Jullandhry said that Minute Mirror had rapidly achieved milestones and was now competitive with its counterparts. He said that his survey showed that this paper had become the most popular among other English national dailies.