What are the best journalistic ethics? —Mohammad Nafees - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\03\20\story_20-3-2012_pg3_5

The question as to what constitutional right an army chief has to become a party in allowing or disallowing any elected political party to form the government remained unanswered from him

Being a journalist, what ethics need to be followed while conducting an interview? An internet debate ensued on this topic among the news media community when an anchor was suspected of having transgressed these limits. The debate soon turned controversial, which led the debaters to choose sides with all kinds of reasoning they could come up with. Among the debaters were senior journalists and retired servicemen. Azaz Sayed from Dawn TV was the anchor, who during an interview, repeatedly asked the former COAS General Aslam Beg if he would return the Tamgha-e-Jumhooriat (Democracy Award) conferred to him by the same democratic government against whom he is now accused of having plotted a conspiracy. 

The interview became a hot debate for the journalist community on an internet group and the issues discussed in the debate were quite interesting. Sayed, the anchor, was initially the main focus of criticism for his unprofessional manner of conducting the interview. The behaviour of the general was also criticised, or rather condemned. While Sayed was being beaten on for his misbehaviour, other voices joined in to prove him right and criticised the general for his unbecoming attitude. Ex-servicemen, most of whom now work as freelance journalists, also jumped into the debate and placed the blame on the reporter for being provocative and invoking the rage of a military man. 

Over 90 comments were shared by the debaters. Fifty of them supported the reporter while 40 opposed him. A number of those who opposed the writer equally criticised General Beg for losing his temper and resorting to a kind of scuffle. Even one of the ex-servicemen admitted that in no way he would condone the act of the general, but that under provocation such acts are not considered a crime anywhere in the world. One of them, a retired colonel, even went ahead and wrote a letter to an online magazine to record the pro-democracy role that, according to him, General Beg had played back in 1988, when many generals were not in agreement with him. With PPP having obtained 93 seats and PML-N only 54 seats, there was a split mandate and no political party had a clear-cut majority to form the government. According to him, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and a few others were in favour of PML-N over PPP to form the government. In other words, General Beg did a great favour to the democratic government of Benazir Bhutto by inviting her to form the government. What he said in his letter was, in fact, a deplorable admission that the democratically elected parties had to seek a favourable nod from the chief of army to form the government and not to depend on the electoral results. The question as to what constitutional right an army chief has to become a party in allowing or disallowing any elected political party to form the government remained unanswered from him. Neither the ex-servicemen nor the senior journalists took this comment of the retired serviceman as offensive, unethical, or unprofessional.

Another interesting aspect of this debate was the hidden sense of satisfaction that many critics of the anchor conveyed in their comments when they confessed that they might have resorted to a similar or a stronger behaviour had they been confronted with a similar situation. Some of them even suggested that he shouldn’t have lowered his professional standards to the level of the general. Unfortunately, not a single retired serviceman posed a similar question to the general as to why he lowered himself down to the level of an ordinary civilian. The civil-military divide also became very visible in the whole discussion. While civilians (journalists) were ready to criticise their colleague for committing excesses in performance of his duty, the military personnel (retired) not once condemned the unbecoming attitude of their former boss. For military men, not only the question about the democracy award was irrelevant but the award itself was worthless and a political bribe. They even considered the interview an anti-army campaign. For media personnel, it was the persistent pestering and not the question that was unprofessional and unacceptable. Many of them were in agreement with his question and persistence as he, in their opinion, tried to question a person belonging to an institution that has always remained above all kinds of accountability and questioning. 

In a society infected with emotional extremism, no issue draws the attention of the people unless it shakes their emotions. Had the reporter remained calm and stopped repeating his question, this interview might have failed to draw any attention. For some debaters it is an exhibition of emotionalism that has taken root so deeply in our society that many events are judged on that basis. According to them, being a senior citizen, the general deserves respect. Opponents of this view had their own logic and considered age an irrelevant issue in matters relating to national interests. Undoubtedly, respect is something that applies to all and given the norms of our culture, seniors need to be treated with extra care. Why did General Beg try to avoid the question and why did he get so infuriated? Persistent pestering, old age of the general, and worthlessness of the award were the reasons justifying his outrageous behaviour. To some, the question should be asked of those who presented the award, the PPP, and not the general who was simply a recipient of it. 

The debate was very interesting as it discussed different norms and values of the journalistic ethics that media has to redefine, especially now as it enjoys more freedom and thus has more responsibilities. There was a genuine desire on the part of many journalists that the best professional ethics need to be followed to save innocent people from any harm that an over-enthusiastic journalist can inflict upon them if he/she is not discouraged at the right moment. Does the questioning of General Beg fall into the category of the vigilante press? Can it be regarded as an anti-army campaign? These are the controversial questions based on the differences of opinion that the journalist community has. This debate is shared to broaden the scope of the discussion by placing it on a wider platform of the print media and to see if others want to pick up the thread and move on.

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher. He can be reached at mohammad.nafees@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment