The importance of a truly free press is vital to the establishment and preservation of a democratic nation. Long before modern objections to the political bias of global nightly newscasts and social media commentary became commonplace and accepted as standard practice in Pakistan, it was the Muslim press that proliferated the ideology of Pakistan to Muslims in the subcontinent and provided a counterpoint to the spurious propaganda otherwise being disseminated to citizens through government-controlled opposition media. The Muslim press was something new. They did not mislead or distort the news. Instead, they provided a rallying point in the struggle for the ideological state of Pakistan.
The idea that the media has delivered misleading messages that are twisted and twisted to fit specific partisan agendas is literally nothing new. But it’s also fair to say that the level of doubt, suspicion and mistrust of the media has never been higher than it is right now.
Anyone with even a fraction of independent and impartial intellectual consideration understands that the media is the lifeblood of an election and that elections can easily be manipulated and influenced in harmful ways by powerful lobbies with political objectives. These facts cannot be disputed.
In Pakistan, where both the rhetoric and behavior of rival political parties have become incendiary to the point of self-destruction, the media is taking sides. And what is at stake is nothing less than the future of our country’s fragile democracy.
There is overwhelming evidence that the Pakistani media unfairly and unethically presents political reporting that only offers a single party candidate’s version of reality. Although the practice of selectively twisting the story to fit a specific narrative is generally accepted by the candidate themselves, this type of misrepresentation is by no means a practice that we condone on the part of our media.
We know this to be true because in November 2021, the Pakistan Broadcaster Association and the All Pakistan Newspaper Society jointly issued a statement that strongly condemned “…all forms of coercion by any government, past or present, that has used government advertising like a tool. influence editorial policy. Unfortunately, many Pakistani media have for years ignored blatant attacks on press freedom and acquiesced to pressure from political parties. It cannot be underestimated how incredibly dangerous this practice is and the devastating potential consequences for the future of our democracy.
Part of this problem also lies in the irresponsible nature of our social media platforms, where fake news and misleading accounts can be spread to hundreds of thousands of readers in the blink of an eye. Recently, the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., released a report that substantiated that “…political bias affects how these businesses operate.”
In other words, social media technologies are designed to select only the most engaging and relevant content based on an individual’s search preferences and in doing so deliberately ignores any alternative philosophy, thus making the reader more vulnerable to manipulation. Indeed, these big tech giants have, for years, deliberately and knowingly brainwashed readers into one point of view, and the media has been complicit in this deception.
Ultimately, the Pakistani media, with a long history of yellow journalism, can never be considered fair and balanced whenever there is money at stake. And, of course, whenever there is There is money at stake, our stories tend to get sensational, and our members of the media are inclined to dismiss the level of responsibility that exists with authentic and factual reporting. All forms of corruption and corrupt journalists must be rooted out of the profession if we are to be able to ensure any level of confidence that the media prioritize objective reporting over a “first to market” mentality. “.
Finally, the crude and illegal censorship and harassment of journalists critical of the government cannot continue. If we continue to allow news stations to be arbitrarily and unlawfully taken off the air, or if we continue to be complicit in the harassment faced by those who express political dissent on social media, we risk returning to the era of draconian law and that will, once again, lead to dangerous power imbalances.
Due to the overwhelming evidence that media coverage affects the outcome of our elections, we simply cannot allow agenda-driven storytelling to shape how the narrative is delivered. Journalists must take full responsibility for the accuracy of their work and they must fully support an open and civil exchange of views.
But beyond that, you as a voter have to make a decision. You can either sit back and allow the media to comfortably frame the story around the canvas of their agenda and politics. Or you can trust yourself to dig below the surface and read between the lines, then frame the story in the context of your own belief system. At the very least, it will give you the opportunity to feel comfortable making critical decisions based on what is real and factual.
And it’s better than where we are today.
Muhammad Adnan is a PhD student at Monash University School of Media, Film and Journalism. He can be reached on Twitter at @Iammadnan