The recent libel ruling by the British court ordered a Pakistani media giant £3 million (PKR 400 million) in damages and costs for airing two dozen separate defamatory claims against rival media outlet and its proprietor. The media giant filed for bankruptcy to escape the fine. The court also revoked licenses of its 3 channels broadcasting in UK. The significance of the court case in UK was that both media organisations rebroadcast in United Kingdom. As the dust seem to settle, one wonders if the verdict signifies that the fierce war between prestigious media organisations is over.
The private electronic media channels surfaced in the country post-millennium, as the then president Musharraf allowed licensing to air news content alongside entertainment. This brought a breath of fresh air to the citizens who longed to hear an independent view on national issues without having to always rely on foreign news.
In this period electronic journalism was nothing short of heroic. We witnessed journalistic command and dedication in times of challenges. Private news channels competed for satellite broadcasting and reached the diaspora across continents. They made a mark representing national views post 9-11 attacks on U.S soil, while keeping a strong eye on the return of Benazir Bhutto and the issues around her subsequent death. News media, through their ethical determination, received accolades and respect from viewers both at home and abroad.
In contrast to its nascent years, recently, media acquires more of a bare-knuckle attitude: aiming to create post-truth by disarming and discrediting individuals, institutions and appealing to emotions of the masses. Media Pundits state that some news channels and anchors try to attain popularity and ratings by lowering their journalistic standards emphasizing the need to influence rather than inform its viewership.
Media in Pakistan has been resilient in the face of regulations and has fought for its freedom. Some journalists, already weary of the institutional pressures influencing journalistic content, now face challenges at the hands of their proprietors who would like to channel the journalistic narrative to safeguard their enterprise’s, often, existential interests.
The war between national media networks has been dispiriting for both journalism and the people of Pakistan. Jeering at its competition will not do well for the media. As it is, a similar case of defamation is still in process in Pakistani courts. From what seems the media battle will not subside easily. Reports allege that the smearing campaign was influenced by political, entrepreneurial and media individuals.
It will be prudent for this pillar of the state to value its freedom and protect its independence and that of its community’s. Institutions like Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Pakistan Broadcasting Association (PBA) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) should be empowered to effectively address issues pertaining to media and journalism. Media professionals and networks should discard personal rivalries for serving the interests of the powerful might as well mean driving a nail in its coffin.