Just the way you wouldn’t hand weapons to an untrained army, you wouldn’t hand cameras and a press pass to untrained media representatives. However, fact of the matter is that time and time again we are reminded that the latter has been taking place in Pakistan almost constantly.
A country expects its army to protect and defend them and similarly a country expects its media to responsibly broadcast news to them.
What we saw yesterday in the wake of an enormous national tragedy was not responsible reporting. We could not even wait a few hours before we started looking for suspects to pin the blame on. We couldn’t even wait to verify the death toll before reporting that there were 40 survivors. We couldn’t even let a day pass before inviting talk show guests to discuss conspiracy theories. And most of all, we couldn’t even focus on what the language we were using must sound like to a grief stricken nation.
Yes, 152 people died in the Margalla Hills. They perished. Their families are grieving. The rescue teams and media personnel who saw the crash site first hand must also be grieving. But we are a hasty nation. We want results, we want culprits named and we want to suck every emotion and thought out of your mind when we get a hold of you. And for all of that, we will tell you that the black box was found, even though headlines this morning state that is not the case. We can not play with people’s hopes and emotions – how do you even expect a nation to trust you?
Shoving the mic in the faces of crying relatives, the media asked “How do you feel?” How do you think they felt, respected colleagues? What was a reporter thinking when she boasted about running barefoot to be the first one to ‘break the news’ for her channel?
Later at night, news channels could have easily invited weather experts, CAA officials, air force pilots who fly in those areas, geologists to explain the terrain and possibility of survival, and impact experts – what we got instead were officials who discussed the possibility of planes being shot down near the no-go zone.
Anchors harassed Rehman Malik to explain what happened and how the tragedy took place. Why would you ask Rehman Malik this question? I understand he is a government official but he doesn’t even know how security lapses allow suicide bombs to go off everyday, so how would you expect him to explain the technicalities of a plane crash?!
Perhaps we have become used to covering terrorist attacks in the most blatant way possible but we could have shown some sensitivity here. Since there was nothing but debris to show on the screens, cameraman panned the tattered chequebooks and broken make-up kits of the crash victims. Yes, because if I had just been killed in a horrible accident, my family would definitely want to see my belongingness scattered next to my remains.
The pilot of the “doomed flight” is not sitting at home with his family. Neither is he facing an investigation of the accident. He is among the dead too. He has a family too. He was not a terrorist who wanted to take a plane full of people down with him. But we didn’t consider that when we immediately starting pointing out his age, his fatigue and his medical conditions. Even if there was a problem or a mistake at his end, lets wait for CAA and Air Blue’s official statements and investigation results before brandishing him as the one responsible for the tragedy.
Hundreds and thousands of us have travelled this airline before and because of their safe landing, we are sitting in front of our computer screens today. Yet all of a sudden we are complaining on public forums about what terrible landings travellers of the air line have to face. Guess what angry people – tons of flights often have bad landings but you cannot use that excuse to justify what happened yesterday.
I believe we are a curious nation but I do not believe we are an insensitive one. The prayers, the tears and the shock yesterday proved we have emotions – television channels played with those emotions yesterday. They didn’t realise that a mother of a victim was in shock before asking her what her daughter was like in person. They didn’t realise that flashing “honeymoon couple dead” on their tickers, would not be any more hard-hitting that the deaths of all of those who were not on their honeymoon.
I expect illiterate people or unbothered citizens not to read this but the media can and should read this. What are you doing? I may be just a few years old in this field and I may not understand the implications of being in a media rat-race, but nothing can justify what we did yesterday. Instead of giving the nation the sensitive and true reports it needed, we gave them traumatizing visuals and crude commentary.
I have spoken out loud about media ethics before but never have I felt as embarrassed as I do today to be considered a part of this ‘industry’. If any one in a position of authority understands this, take action and train your team. It’ll be the best public service you could do for a nation of lost souls.
Shyema Sajjad is the Deputy Editor at Dawn.com
This article was published on The Dawn Blog.