By Sajjad Shaukat
Yellow journalism which accelerated in the1890s in the west is described as the employment of tactics by newspapers such as sensationalism, exaggeration, distortion of facts etc. to attract readers in order to increase circulation in era of competition. With the advent of many television channels in the modern age, the era ended shortly after the turn of the century, as the world gradually decreased from the competition in sensationalism.
When such unethical practice continued by many TV channels and newspapers, consensus developed among responsible journalists and media owners around the world that it is against the moral codes of journalism. Hence, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched an Ethical Journalism Initiative in 2008.
But, it is regrettable that techniques of yellow journalism are still being applied in some less developed countries, especially in Pakistan, without taking cognizance of its negative effects on the people. In case of Pakistan, spawning scores of new TV channels and associated burgeoning business interests led to coin unique methods of generating market competition so as to attract viewership and control financial shares. As advertisements and commercials dominated the viewers’ prime time, the contents of TV broadcasts have also skewed, while tone and tenor of media reports have got blended with sensationalism.
In these terms, while presenting little or no legitimate well-researched news items, our TV channels, exploit, distort and exaggerate the news to create sensations and attract viewers in order to become more popular with the sole aim to advance their financial interests. Based upon opinion-masquerading as objective fact, our media anchors mislead and excite public opinion. They do not indicate what the people need, but show what the people want, thus have stunning impact of psychological shock.
Ignoring the moral codes of journalism, media reporters, analysts and anchors have adopted negative techniques and unscrupulous practices in their coverage because they have developed the habit of challenging the prestige of sensitive institutions of the state such as judiciary, army, ISI and law-enforcing agencies. While following the rude techniques of yellow journalism, they raise any issue or development and initiate controversial debate among the political commentators who themselves intend to gain eminence. Media anchors and experts who manipulate the concerned issue also conceal the truth and ground realities, particularly in wake of the war against terrorism—ignoring the multiple crises which Pakistan is facing at this crucial hour.
Besides, use of unethical songs, loaded conversations and erotic communications or airing foreign commercials especially those from India directly influences the moral fiber of our society. Resultantly, the moral fiber, ethical standards, public esteem and social order of the country are directly damaged. Notably, certain TV anchors and channels get over-assertive in their reporting against prestigious state organs only to improve their ratings, while others resort to sensationalism using slanderous and irresponsible expressions.
While, the system of ratings to evaluate the performance and ranking of TV channels by using subjective viewership—scoring procedures has brought cut throat competition among the TV channels. The aim is to attract maximum clutter of commercials around popular programmes of lucky channels. This enabled the channels to rapidly grow so as to collect their revenues.
In this respect, the rating schemes employ “The People Meter System” to measure the viewers’ responses for having viewed a number of channels as indicated by the meter. It is an automated system of electronic devices, which records what is being watched on the television.
For the purpose, various meters are installed at the residences of selected people in selected cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and few others. “The People Meter System” is absolutely faulty as it does not represent the population of viewers for which it reports. The concerned channels, however, earn billions of rupees despite using incorrect samples and unscientific techniques of rating. In fact, “The People Meter System” does not reflect opinion of the entire population of related- TV viewers. Therefore, the rating results are biased and do not show the true picture.
In this context, the rating system has only created an environment of furious competition among the TV channels, while anchors make strenuous efforts to improve the ratings of their channel programmes by disregarding the principle of objective reporting and thus, overlook the moral codes of journalism.
Moreover, some anchors and channels also employ unethical methods of bribing the viewers by suggesting them to keep on pressing the meter installed at their residences to get favorable results. Similarly, they target prestigious institutions and highly regarded individuals just to improve their ratings—falling below the ethical levels of respect and self-esteemed organs of state and the renowned persons. No doubt, mistakes have been committed by everyone in the past, and could unintentionally be done in the present. But TV channels and their commentators exploit the same instead of emphasizing solution of the concerned crisis.
As a matter of fact, the tools employed by rating system are neither credible nor valid; hence, the entire exercise appears to be confounded, illegal and unethical. It needs to be reviewed by the authorities concerned.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority must take notice of the issue in detail and lay down the procedure to measure the viewers’ response pertaining to the ratings of a particular TV channel or programme. In this regard, experts of social scientists must be engaged to make the ratings scientifically valid and reliable. Nonetheless, our media must follow the real principles of journalism by educating and guiding the people towards right direction through credible and true information. They should avoid developing ‘stereotypes’ among the people by displaying unbiased news and comments.
Now, the right hour has come to pull the country out of the multi-faceted crises. In this connection, being the fourth pillar of the state, electronic media can play positive role. Our TV channels and the concerned experts must seek the solution of problems, while promoting unity among various state institutions and the general masses instead of promoting yellow journalism.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations