Much ado has been made of the firing of Samaa TV show host, Maya Khan, after her televised park raid. One of the key questions raised again and again, increasingly so by a momentarily introspective media, has been: who will watch the watcher? If journalists have turned to scum, or in the case of Maya Khan, if frolicking morning show hosts are not even aware of what they have done wrong in publicly harassing young couples, who will hold them accountable?
There is a simple answer to that. And no, it is not the duty of the public at large, though they too, as we have seen in Maya Khan’s case, have a role to play as well.
For too long, media groups either from a misguided notion of journalism ethics or from a fear of entering a tit-for-tat war against each other have avoided, nay grossly neglected reporting on the media itself. While across the world we see ‘media reporting’ with specialised media reporters and full-fledged media desks, this very critical role of covering the very personalities, programmes and companies that make the news has yet to be taken up by any local news organisation.
Why this hesitancy? For some, it is outright ignorance of the fact that reporting on the media is news and plays as critical a function as reporting in any other field. Then, there is an old vanguard of local journalists and columnists who feel it is ‘not the done thing’ i.e., it is somehow a ‘low blow’ to report on a fellow sahafi and competitor. Lastly, and perhaps most critically, there are the media owners themselves, who discourage or would actively oppose such reporting as it would not only risk exposing their own dirty laundry and/or failures in the inevitable public exchange of information but it would also likely result in a new front of legal battles, notices and God forbid, a code of conduct for the media that would seriously restrict their current sab kuch chalta hai attitude to the news.
Suddenly, the media would be held accountable, by the media itself. It would be a form of public internal policing. Inevitably, media reporters and media critics would move on from the ‘tit-for-tat’ wars, pointing out illegalities in the actions of each other (which at this point would be hugely beneficial for all but the media owners), to critiquing all sorts of elements that make up the media. Do we have a plagiarism issue in local media? Yes we do and that would be exposed and eradicated. Do we have reporters that no longer report but just copy whatever they see and hear on other news channels? Yes we do, but with media desks monitoring and reporting on such instances, it would be exposed and this dangerous trend would be eliminated. Do we have terrible morning shows, which dish out content for an audience they assume are imbeciles? Yes, and that too could be reported on, discussed and exposed, resulting in better programming.
Unfortunately, most media folk and media owners are short-sighted to the point of blindness. They are stuck in an old world of old fears and prefer to stick to their rotten (and it is rotten) industry, making do with the status quo and making key decisions based on hunches and ‘good experience’ from their limited exposure of having worked in a media company or two.
That is why no local news channel or newspaper has a dedicated media desk, even though in media-obsessed Pakistan, it is completely logical that the public would lap up any reporting done on the very journalists, columnists and TV shows that dominate their lives. The answer has been staring us in the face for quite some time now: the watchers must watch the watchers and to spare this article from another cliche dominating local journalism, I will present the solution.
Mr/Mrs media owner, set up a media desk with two to three dedicated reporters and you will lead the pack, change history and help Pakistan a great deal. As a bonus, you will also make a lot of cash in the long-run.