The shooting of the high profile journalist and TV personality Hamid Mir on Saturday, led as it rightly should have, to a frenzy in the media. The news channel, Geo News, to which Mir belongs was the frontrunner in reporting after the incident. In a country where the narrative on democracy is newly maturing, the symbolism of an attack on a journalist is not lost on many. This, and other recent attacks on journalists, are being increasingly debated as attacks on democratic institutions, on the principles of free media and free speech. Though this is important, what is occurring alongside is a simultaneous and regrettable show of the limitations of an institution still in its infancy, grappling with the ethics and rules of respectable reporting.
There are two things that stand out in this particular case. First, the bizarre sensationalism that has become, it seems, a fundamental part of the style in which the news and talk shows are presented to the public. With an impressive computer animation team working at break neck speed, the news is declared ceremoniously (visual and sound effects included), not reported. Photographs of the injured, the dead, the hospitalised are flashed hundreds of times every hour. News anchors and TV hosts hardly able to contain themselves set the stage for debate and discussion (both on TV and at home) that is low on quality and real content, despite some sane points of view. It is an unsavoury news style, and the public feeds into it.
Second, is the blatant point and blame game. The fact that Mir had pinpointed possible culprits at a time before the shooting actually occurred is worthy of reporting but it amounts to nothing without substantiation. Surely, there must be an epistemology somebody must make the effort of tracing, even under the assumption that Mir had good reason to point a finger at the ISI. To construct a media narrative entirely around this statement- even to present it as a central suspicion- highlights in many ways, the institution’s egotism and self-importance. One leading newspaper has already demanded the resignation of the ISI Chief.
The attack is a horrific example of the state’s state of affairs. The increase in violence has naturally led to a growth in the public’s imagination of violence. There are so many actors up for blame that it is easy to believe any one of them could be responsible. This is especially why the media must focus on responsible, ethical, informative reporting and protect itself from the infiltration of profit-seeking, conspiracy and sensationalism. It must recognise, proudly, that it is based on a principle worth protecting at all costs.