Over the past two decades, the media (mainstream and social) has gained huge amounts of relevance in every aspect of social life. From entertainment to advertisements and all the way up to political entanglement, the media’s role in society has been huge. It has greatly bolstered the idea of globalization and the quick flow of information from one corner of the world to the other.
This media has been the force behind toppling despots and served the public as a tool to hold the rich and powerful accountable for their misdeeds. Throughout history, whether it was the print media or the electronic media, the media has had an impact on the general public and helped it in times of difficulty. In times of war, unrest, and natural disasters the media is always the first one at the scene to keep people updated about the situation.
In times of difficulty, governments used their media outlets to keep the public’s spirits high. It is also a means to keep the people abreast with the latest developments and innovations for better use. The media is a gift that keeps on giving but unfortunately, black sheeps exist within every sphere of life and we find many in the media too.
The Evolution of Media
Since the beginning of time, mankind’s curious mind has always remained attentive and in search of new developments. Before the print media/press, the oral spread of information was the only source. Journalism was not really a profession; most developments from across the globe were brought in by sailors, traders, and travelers. In the 1400s, with the introduction of “movable type”, the media started to catch a grip.
As the methods to print became more abundant as well as faster, the print media started to grow and with it, so did the media’s role in society. Journalism was a proper profession. In the 1600s, the first-ever newspaper was published. As the years passed on, the print media’s role gained more relevance until it became a vital part of society. Technological advancement increased the flow of information. Soon the media transitioned into the electronic spectrum. Since then, it has become a major power in every socio, political and economic factor.
Interest-based Media Reporting and Misinformation
It is very misfortunate that though the media, specifically the mainstream media, speaks of itself as free and fair, in recent times a fraction of the media has not displayed any of those attributes. State-owned news channels, private news channels, and even prominent platforms over the internet have degraded their motto and abandoned their commitment to providing authenticated information.
News reports usually nowadays lack veracity; the whole picture is never painted for the public. Impartiality has become a forgotten tendency. Authors include half the stories and facts to please their feeding hand or, in some cases, to validate their own opinions. Within the media, some unscrupulous cliques formed a mafia. A good example of this is when the Foreign Minister of Pakistan accused the western media of being affected by “deep pockets”, journalists from around the world called him anti-Semitic and ridiculed him.
Sometimes, due to the media’s role in spreading misinformation in society, devastating incidents have occurred. In World War I, posters would be dropped off by planes over cities. The content would encourage the people to join the army or, in some cases, have fabricated stories about the front-line to evoke anger and a feeling of enmity for the enemy. In recent times, a few people who have vested interests have spoiled the idea of “total freedom of expression and speech”.
America being a staunch ambassador of freedom of speech had to deal with the 2020 election debacle, when a large crowd of Trump supporters raided the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. This would not have taken place if Donald Trump had refrained from spreading rumors about the elections being rigged. Trump’s social media handles were later blocked. From the aforementioned examples, we can realize the sensitivity and the terrible by-products created due to the spread of misinformation.
Movie Industry and Narrative Building
In the broadcast media, filmmakers have also dipped their feet in the propagation of opinions well suited to their political affairs. Bollywood is well known for its alteration of history as well as current affairs. Movies produced by Indian filmmakers usually deviate excessively from factual history. Often times they applaud their own heroics regardless of whether it’s true or not.
Due to movies interpreting history falsely, among the younger generation and other viewers, the real history is being lost. As most of India’s movies or shows are anti-Pakistan or anti-Muslim, it is important that movies that highlight the true essence of history are produced. Hollywood follows a similar pattern as well. Hollywood movies are mainly based upon American supremacy and how America is the good guy and usually, some Russian or Arab group is portrayed as troublesome.
Some productions—documentaries and movies—are created just to justify America’s war on other nations, for example, the war on Iraq. From an American perspective though, this is actually a benefiting trait of the media. Through the media, America has been able to impact history and steer it in its favor. It has benefited greatly, not only reputation-wise but also economically.
Fake News and Social Media as a Tool
Social media has probably been the most blatant and biggest exporter of misinformation. Unfortunately, social media has a colossal audience due to its easy access, which makes it the perfect tool for spreading fake news. According to a report by Reuters, 53% of American’s rely upon social media for their news. The same can be said for all the other countries in the world.
In Pakistan, there are 183 million active smartphones; that’s almost 85% of the whole population. A single rumor through WhatsApp can reach millions of people. This was the case when a massive power outage was experienced in Pakistan back in January of 2021. Misinformation of all sorts was spread regarding the reason for the outage, from terrorist attacks to a military coup. Later it turned out to be a technical fault.
Another example of the fake chain messages on social media is the false information that has been spread about COVID-19, especially concerning the vaccine. Simultaneously though, the mainstream media’s role in fighting COVID-19 has greatly helped in raising awareness in society. The correct information and the correct course of action to be taken by the public were all conveyed by the mainstream media. Later official social media handles were also delivering authentic news. The fight against covid-19 has been successful thanks to the availability of information at rapid speeds.
In 2020, the EU DisinfoLab exposed a propaganda network—the Indian Chronicles—run by India. This was run by a group named Srivastava and the Indian news agency ANI (Asian News International). The main goal of this operation was to stigmatize Pakistan and China by using social and mainstream media as a tool for spreading fake news. This network has been running for the past 15 years and was responsible for the identity theft of many high-level personalities, such as the former president of the European Parliament.
Apart from this, it had more than 700 fake media outlets across more than 100 countries all over the world. Now from an Indian perspective, the media’s role in international society has been positive as it has enabled India to achieve its objectives for the past 15 years. However, the state of Pakistan needs to strengthen its own media and also devise policies to regulate the spread of information.
Media and Its Impact on Fifth-generation Warfare
The media (broadcasting and social) has bolstered fifth-generation warfare (5GW). This generation of warfare depends heavily upon the spread of misinformation and the molding of the masses’ opinions to align with that of the aggressor. In various parts of Pakistan, terror outfits operating from Afghanistan have spread their illicit ideology through radio stations. They’ve been able to brainwash many people, and especially the youth into working for them.
Apart from terror groups, India, as mentioned above, has also been involved in trying to spread panic amongst the people in Pakistan. For example in the skirmish that took place on 27th February 2019, Indian media was busy spreading trumped-up stories. A more recent example is that of the situation in Panjshir, Afghanistan.
At the same time though, the broadcast media has also helped fight against 5GW and terrorism. The media has been helpful in spreading awareness amongst the masses to remain vigilant about the misinformation that is stirred around. It has distinctively fought against terrorism, by keeping the public informed about various events and their backstory. Most importantly, the media has molded the right opinions in the minds of the masses, so people do not side with the aggressors.
In Pakistan, many political parties wrongfully use biased journalists to propagate their agenda. Unsubstantiated reporting takes place which not only misguides the public but also damages the reputation of the sacred occupation of journalism.
Recommendations for Pakistan
In terms of its impact, the media is a great power that can be used for the good and bad. It is necessary that the government of Pakistan creates such a system that holds the media accountable for any sort of fabricated news. In America, even the judiciaries are held accountable through several judicial evaluation programs. Black letter guidelines for the evaluation of judicial performance were developed by the American Bar Association to allow judges to get feedback concerning their own judicial behavior.
This helped to keep the judiciary free from any external agency but also enabled them to improve their deliverance of justice. Article X of the code of conduct also underscored the standard the judges must comply with while carrying out any judicial activity. The same can be done for the media.
Surveys for the consumers and self-evaluation programs should be set up so the media can evaluate itself. Another idea is to make separate courts for media so any illicit activity should be solved by a court designated specifically for the media. Pakistan should free the media by inculcating self-accountability and strengthen and enable it to maintain neutrality in institutes like PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority).
The rules and regulations should be formed through consultation with all stakeholders for implementation in good letter and spirit. There should be no authoritative interference from the government or any external power; however, there should be some slot open where the government may be able to give some suggestions. At the same time, the people entering the field of media should do so based on merit and talent. Furthermore, they should be screened out by their own educational institution.
Moreover, Pakistan’s education institutes should build their own world-class media academy with all requisites for the proper training. The media is a major component of democracy, so it is necessary that it too is strengthened, but at the same time regulated, so the public remains well informed. The 3rd US President, Thomas Jefferson once said, “A well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.”
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