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Need for responsible media -- an essay

Need for responsible media:
India’s mass media sector is dynamic, growing, and has a huge audience. Mass media can be a force for social change. Media coverage of HIV/AIDS in India, however, has been erratic in quality.  Sensationalism can contribute to stigmatization and discrimination, the privacy of victims is often not respected, fact checking is frequently lacking, and the media’s role in public education is unclear and inconsistent.
The World Bank Institute (WBI) has partnered with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service Trust in a capacity building program to put socially responsible communication into schools of communication and journalism. HIV/AIDS and other health issues are topics for applied exercises. WBI’s goal for the program was to test an innovative solution that has the potential to go to scale in India and elsewhere, and also be cost effective.
Since the media’s role in public education is unclear and inconsistent...WBI has partnered with the BBC in a capacity building program to put socially responsible communication into schools of communication and journalism.
The program developed curricula on Socially Responsible Communication for regular course offerings in three of the leading schools of communication in India: The course is mandatory in two schools and elective in the third. The first round of training prepared 120 students with the skills and attitudes they need to cover HIV/AIDS, health, and other social issues in their media and communications work.
At present a part of media acts as paid media.  The TV  channels, newspapers are owned by powerful politicians and they use the media for influencing the thinking of people to their advantage.  While this cannot be avoided totally an attempt can be made by responsible media not exaggerate negative happening and blow trumpet again and again creating sensation among the younger generation.  That results in further problems.
Recently “Sri Lankan Tamil Issue”  which has not been given importance for more than three decades is taken by some interested groups and is brought to limelight and that has created student stir, closure of colleges in Tamil Nadu.  Political parties want to take advantage of innocence of college/school students and misguide them and this is highlighted by the media for improving their advertisement collections.  This tendency should be discouraged.

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The public's concern about society and government, and reciprocally the government's viewpoint about the public, is generally presented and disseminated, and even enlarged, through the media. With openness and transparency gradually becoming a consensus of governance, participation and expression have become the basic rights of citizens. Cadres from political parties and government appear on talk shows and hold press conferences, they are more confident and at ease in the spotlight.
Instead of developing the use of media capabilities to respond to public concern, govt still shows serious shortcomings in dealing with the media, either ignoring it altogether or regarding their claims as false and/or embellishments. In the information-rich era, officials need to develop time sensitivity to unexpected incidents and learn to use the media wisely to improve governance. Blocking of information only creates an insurmountable "gap" between govt and the people. To explain govt policies, ease public concerns, communicate ideas, seek common ground and solve problems govt needs to outsource to and coopt media professionals more.  Slow or inappropriate responses will damage the intangible assets, this includes public trust. 
Unfortunately govt apparatchiks tend to consider public opinion as "a way to smear enemies", they respond adversely to what is perceived as unfair and harsh stories. Media’s role with respect to governance is to hold govt accountable for all its deeds. The government believes that its decisions and actions invite lot of criticism unfairly, especially those relating to corruption and a host of other issues.
The media guards its newly won freedom jealously. While tension between government and the press is healthy and inevitable, both sides need to be patient with other's critiques, making joint efforts to improve its quality.  While Government recognizes freedom of expression as an entrenched tenet of our fledgling democratic society, our society is still in denial with respect to information and dialogue with government. Restrictive laws, especially unwritten ones under which the media operates and which obstruct its efforts, need to be removed. Media must be treated equally and openly, the government tends to favour those whom they see as “friends” and ignore those perceived as “enemies”. Harmonious relations will contribute to social harmony and progress.    
Having played a leading role in the fall of a military dictatorship and restoration of an independent judiciary, the media has still not come to terms with its new found power. With great power comes great responsibility. Instead of legislation or government control, self-regulation is the need of the hour.  To enhance media’s expertise, maturity and credibility, mediocre and sub-standard reporters must either undergo remedial training or got rid of. Voluntary guidelines for coverage of events must be developed, reorganizing itself to enhance its capacity for "speaking the truth," and for "serious, mature, and insightful reporting and analysis." Motivation or bias must be considered anathema.
A comprehensive understanding of the imperatives of national interest and strategic concerns while covering sensitive issues needs to be developed.  No such mechanism exists in Pakistan– either at separate television stations or via an association of media outlets – that ensures only appropriate and ethical images are broadcast. Broadcast outlets with responsible editorial guidelines across the world usually have a system of checks and counterchecks that dictate what can go on air.
One must examine here the concept of “clear and present danger”. As annunciated in 1919 by US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr what does one do about a person “falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing panic” leading to a stampede in which many people die or are injured? Can the law protect this person for “premeditated murder” as much as any news broadcaster on TV or radio or any other broadcast medium airing news and views which would inflame public opinion and likely cause anarchy because of the incitement thereof? Any statement made as though it were true when in fact it is false, and gives a negative impression of a person, company, group, product, government, or country, is defamation. In any form, like in printed words or pictures, or any other visual symbol, defamation is libel. Our real problem stem from the ineffectiveness of defamation laws.  Many stories appearing in the western media about Pakistan, its Armed Forces and the ISI are motivated and have been mostly leaked by official sources. These are invariably re-produced locally by both electronic and print medias without comprehending the lasting damage to our national security and/or integrity of the country. How many media houses have been prosecuted for libel?
Defamation laws have developed over several centuries to provide recourse for people whose reputation is, or is likely to be harmed by publication of information about them. These laws differ from country to country but the primary objective is to balance protection of individual reputation with freedom of expression.  In Pakistan the Defamation Ordinance 2002 covers all matters pertaining to defamation accrued in Pakistan. Section 3 of the Defamation Ordinance 2002 defines defamation and its forms, while Section 4 makes the defamation actionable i.e. the publication of defamatory matter is an actionable wrong without proof of special damage to the person (or the institution, etc) defamed and where defamation is proved, damage shall be presumed. But Pakistan’s defamation and libel laws have not been tested much because of loopholes as well as the lengthy process of courts. We must enact legislation like in England where the burden of proof is on the person who made the statement to prove that the statement he (or she) has made is true. 
Even when legal notices are sent, not many go to the courts against the publishers and reporters. Many false allegations emanate from the police, and once a person is rescued from their clutches, he prefers to remain silent instead of filing a defamation and libel suit.   Blatant perjury is the major reason for the ineffectiveness of our laws. At the moment many of the witnesses lie through their teeth under oath, similarly broadcasters spread venomous canard on air without verifying the facts. It is a very serious offence and must carry a heavy penalty. The fourth estate has a duty to keep the public informed, without undermining credibility, the basis of accountability. Otherwise we simply become tools of those that perpetuate fraud and deceit. Unfortunately money and power have inordinate clout and sometimes we fail the high moral standards that are a must for the media to sustain its credibility. We should refrain from being vicious with those who are doing their job honestly and not using the media as a weapon for their own ulterior motives.
No one seems to recognize the dire need for the rule of law. Consider the power Rupert Murdoch wields, yet his Empire is being targeted to account for its excesses. There have been many resignations (and arrests). London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner and his Deputy have both resigned, more police officers will likely be arrested for bribery. Even British PM David Cameron finds himself under siege for his close association with Murdoch.
Media responsibility is only possible when we can enforce the rule of law with equal force on all those who bend or break the laws of the land.

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