Responsible journalism and moral values

‘Impressionistic statements of politicians are published as the news, and their managed headlines carrying political slogans are published as such in the form of news headlines. This is the extreme downfall which our media can show.'

The above topic was under discussion in Hamdard Thinker’s Forum this month. Former Justice Nasira Javed presided over the session. I was supposed to deliver the main speech as the main speaker. But there, it was the reverse case. Speakers presented their views, and when I was asked to say something, there were only two minutes left. I couldn’t say what I was up to. However, I can at least write some of the points here. We know responsibilities do not deprive journalism of freedom of information and expression and freedom does not always make journalists responsible. These are not just journalists who get the freedom of information and expression. Information is the second biggest input for human beings after food. Therefore, freedom of access to information and freedom of expression belongs to the list of basic human rights. It is said that quick and easy access to information is the key to success. And this is because humans’ success lies in their decisions. Those who make wise decisions in their lives are successful, and those who make unwise decisions remain in a state of bewilderment. Wise decisions are those that are made on the basis of proper information about the issues. We make all types of decisions in a day’s life, some of which are small, some very big and important.

Apparently, trivial decisions are made without any research and special information only on the basis of our incomplete observations and experiences. Journalists are there to supply us with quick and pure information for our audience. The journalists are bound to impart pure information. There must be a separation between information, expression, and opinions. In the news, we want pure information with proper details. We want our journalism to play a watchdog’s role in the connection of public funds and the corruption-free functioning of public institutions. We like our media to stand by the poor and deprived classes. We wish that the media should play a pivotal role in refining public taste, enhancing their awareness and knowledge of new developments, new techniques, inventions, and compulsions of the time. We want our media to take care of the religious and societal values and snub immoral content and create a refined intellectual environment in the country. Will upheld neutrality, and national interests and will never publish or broadcast even a single sentence against societal interest and moral values. If we look at the present state of affairs, our media have failed in abiding by the ethical values of their profession.

Any society lives in an intellectual environment created by its media. Our media have created an environment of words without brains. When a nation remains in a state of confusion for quite some time, it becomes prey to uncertainty. Uncertainty creates disappointment, and a long period of disappointment brings chaos and frustration to the nations, which we are facing at this time. Frustrated people are prone to all types of corruption and crimes that we experience in our society. Our media have converted our political differences into freestyle fights. Impressionistic statements of politicians are published as the news, and their managed headlines carrying political slogans are published as such in the form of news headlines. This is the extreme downfall that our media can show. This is the reason that people from other countries term our journalism “he said journalism. It is also called journalism, based on utterances in place of occurrences. Balanced and refined tastes in our journalism are rarely observed. One journalism professor from Tashkand University visited the Punjab University Communication Department in 2000.

In his speech, he said, “I wonder why there is so much sensationalism in your journalism.” A student said that it is because journalism clients want this. This Professor from Tashkand University wondered and said it is amazing. If your journalists are of refined taste, they should try to impart their qualities and correct the bad tastes of your masses. If your majority is not having good taste, it doesn’t mean that you journalists should leave your refined taste and go to their lower levels to get their readership. You must consider yourself teachers and reformers and must play your role in reforming society. On another occasion, Punjab University’s Vice Chancellor Dr. Rafiq Ahmed said in a seminar of the Mass Communication Department that our journalism has given a temperament of shallow thinking to our readers by giving incomplete information, even about very important issues of the nation. They don’t provide answers to 5ws in their news stories and this shallowness of information has converted this non-accessibility of complete information in the news, even published with banner headlines, which has resulted in a habit of relying only on shallow information for making very important decisions.

We need to strengthen the Press Council of Pakistan for the implementation of the code of ethics written by the journalists themselves. Important articles of the code of ethics must be published in all good newspapers and journals. Similarly, important news channels should also take the initiative to introduce themselves to the professional guidelines that they have chosen for themselves. Famous author Yuval Noah Harari very rightly points out that it is genuinely elected people’s independent opinion that should be considered the last political authority. How can a voter know what he should do? He should listen to his inner voice. But this is not an easy job. I should have gotten rid of shallow slogans and listened to my inner self. I need to listen only to my non-polluted inner voice after avoiding all of these outer noises. He thinks that the illiterate public’s momentary feelings are quite an irrelevant basis for their very important decisions. Journalists of print, electronic, and digital media should always keep national interests and ethical norms and values in mind and consider their profession a sensitive and strong medium of public service. In this country of mafias, journalists need to be very strong ethically and determinedly. President Lahore Press Club Azam Chaudhry, EiEssarana, Taseer Mustafa, Rana Ameer Ahmed Khan, Advocate, Qayyum Nizami, Dr. Kanwal Feroze, Khalid Mehmood Ata, Javed Yunas, Khalida Jameel, and Nasira Javed also spoke on the topic.

With 50 years of teaching experience, Professor Dr. Shafiq Jullandhry, a noted writer and author of award-winning books, is former chairman of Punjab University's Mass Communication Department (now School of Communication Studies); also heads Elaaf Club and Pakistan Media Guild as president. He can be reached at