News channels are the new entertainment channels
Last month Mr. M. Shafey Kidwai, Head of Department of Mass Communication at Aligarh Muslim University, India, delivered a lecture on the current state of the Indian media. The lecture was hosted by the School of Media and Mass Communication (SMC). Vice Chancellor Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Dean SMC Prof. Dr. Mehdi Hasan and Prof. Asghar Nadeem Syed were also present and spoke at the event.
Mr. Kidwai blamed the Indian media of following 'commercial interests' and not adhering to the standards of professional, objective journalism. Highlighting a new phenomenon in Indian journalism, Mr. Kidwai pointed out the fictionalised presentation of facts while delivering news, terming it 'fact-ion': a mixture of fact and fiction. He said the age-old Indian soap operas were losing ground to reality shows and the Indian public was more interested in watching conflict on television. “News channel anchors have specific instructions to be hostile while interviewing their subjects and project conflict as it boosts ratings,” he added.
Critcising the Indian daily Times of India, Mr. Kidwai charged the paper with practicing the kind of journalism that only sells more copies and does not reflect the true Indian society and its issues. “Money has usurped all values in the mainstream media,” he claimed. At the same time, Mr. Kidwai praised the media for upholding the liberal and secular values of India and appreciated its role in safeguarding democracy and empowering the people.
Dr. Mehdi, in his speech, regretted how despite being neighbours, both countries had banned the other's news channels and newspapers from the public and termed it a violation of Article 19 of the UN Charter of Human Rights. He said that it was a tragedy that the older generation in both countries had transferred the poison of enmity to the youth and advised the media to promote peace and tolerance between the two countries.
Mr. Sartaz Aziz, in the closing address, highlighted the adverse conditions of Muslims in India, as established in the Sachal Commission and said that cordial relations between the two neighbours would automatically result in improved conditions of the Indian Muslims. The Vice Chancellor stated that the biased Indian media coverage of the tragic Mumbai attacks derailed the peace process between India and Pakistan and stressed the media of both countries to avoid blind accusations and work towards durable peace between the two neighbours.
Reporter: Bilal Abbas; Photographer: Baseer Akram
You're on your own, a soldier
He walked in with a suave and confident air. The students' eyes followed him as he stepped in front of the rostrum. Not feeling the need for any formalities, he immediately launched into his lecture. Mr. Aamir Ghauri had been invited by the School of Media and Mass Communication to give a lecture on conflict reporting.
As a man who had worked both in and outside Pakistan, Mr. Ghauri is aware of the problems faced by local reporters as they are pushed into crisis situations. The burgeoning electronic media has opened up many jobs but given way to little experience. Reporters are forced into conflict situations without the correct know-how or preparation by their bureau chiefs: only because no one knows any better.
Mr. Ghauri narrated details of two conflicts which he has covered: the Bosnian and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. He spoke of the importance of knowing local languages to ensure that communication was reliable and effective. The atmosphere in a conflict zone is perilous, creating the need to use all five senses. Every angle is essential because anything can be news. The locals, their diets or surrounding infrastructure can all be crucial. Reporters can often be caught alone which necessitates the need to know how their equipment works. Reporters must learn every skill, spending time with a professional who will teach the use of the various instruments.
Seeking permission to use pictures, sources and quotations are important. The body kit required for conflict reporting is heavy but indispensable. The reporter needs to be able-bodied to survive rough conditions. This is to guarantee that the reporter does not become the news himself. Also, he must not comment on the conflict himself, using statements from eye witnesses instead.
Mr. Ghauri did not deceive his audience. He was honest and brutal, telling the students that 'mummy-daddies' would find it difficult to survive in a conflict zone. Reporters could be killed for the branded clothes they wear, or even be shot down if they knocked on the doors of strangers. He emphasised the importance of media personnel ensuring that they are clearly identifiable as ‘press’ in a conflict zone, so that their identity is not mistaken.
Criticising local news channels’ reporting standards, Mr. Ghauri mentioned some Pakistani news channels would run stories without even having a reporter on the scene. Reports were faulty as they were constantly rebutted and changed, reducing their credibility.
There was a question-answer session where the students asked Mr. Ghauri his opinion on various topics. Mr. Ghauri's lecture was enlightening and interesting. It left the students feeling better prepared for conflict situations and hoping to find an opportunity where they could be reporting from the field.
Aamir Ghauri is the editor of the Asian Journal: a free publication for London's residents. He is a veteran journalist and lecturer on conflict reporting and has served in numerous media organizations in Pakistan and abroad.
Reporter: Fatima Khan