ISLAMABAD: Since 2002, the Pakistani media has become powerful and independent and the number of private television channels has grown to 89, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
Since the introduction of these vibrant TV channels, many major scams have been unveiled by journalists. Notable among them are the Pakistan Steel Mill’s Rs22 billion scam, NICL case, corruption in Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Railways, Hajj corruption case, NATO containers’ case, rental power projects and the ephedrine quota case.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share not only a border but history, culture, religion and societal structure too. Both countries are severely hit by corruption and their media has gained much independence and credibility during the past 10 years. In this scenario, it is widely believed that Afghan journalists can follow footsteps of their fellows in Pakistan where most important among recently unveiled corruption cases is considered Malik Riaz’s media gate in which the son of Chief Justice of Pakistan is said to have taken money from Malik Riaz to give favourable decisions from the Supreme Court.
“Malik Riaz case proved that the media can hold the judiciary and even itself accountable,” says Javed Chaudhry, columnist and anchorperson working with Express media group. “This case, along with missing persons’ case has established impartiality and credibility of the media in its fight against corruption.”
Chaudhry feels, like many others in country, that the media in Pakistan has become free and fair during the last decade. “The Pakistani media has covered the journey of 100 years in just 10, but their curiosity and thrust for revelation does not end and that is what drives the media.”
Pakistani media flourished during the last 10 years and the same was the case with Afghanistan. But the question remains whether Pakistani newsmen can become role models for their Afghan counterparts in fighting corruption or not.
Chaudhry is optimistic in this regard too. “Pakistan and Afghanistan have a common culture, history and social fabric hence the media can play the same role in Afghan society that it played in Pakistan.”
Ground conditions in Pakistan and Afghanistan are different. Weak political structure, a vulnerable security situation, foreign occupation and economic instability have their impact on every walk of life in our neighbourhood. For the media too, there is no exception to the rule and Afghan media’s economic reliance on foreign aid is regarded as the biggest hidden threat.
Muhammad Malick, resident editor of The News in Islamabad, says that the pouring in of foreign aid in Afghanistan changes the scenario. “Economic independence is the biggest factor in the growth of the media in Pakistan. The private sector here has become strong enough during these years to invest in the media and to get it out of state control,” he said. Decreasing the media’s reliance on advertisement from the state has given it a chance to become strong and independent. “A decade ago, the media was getting 70-75% of its advertisement from the government and only 25-30% from the private sector, but now the equation has reserved,” Malick explains.
“The Afghan media is very young and immature. It is not in their capacity to reveal scandals like the media in Pakistan does,” said Afghan journalist Harun Najafizada.
“A lot of scandals, like the Kabul Bank one, came from the foreign media after which the Afghan media picked it up. The reason is that sources in Afghanistan are not helpful. They prefer to talk to foreign journalists.” Najafizada claims that the media in Afghanistan has more potential than the foreign media, provided if it is given time to saturate. “We know the culture, the language and can easily become friends with the sources,” he added.
Lacunas exist on Pakistani media’s part too. Most notable is its inability to hold itself accountable and to resist pressure coming from owners of media groups. Mostly journalists succumb to the threats coming from political factions or sometimes they willingly tilt towards yellow journalism and file tabled stories or host planted shows on TV.
Matiullah Jan, a senior journalist, tried to highlight the irregularities and corruption within the media but he was stopped due to immense pressure by the owners of media houses and even some journalists associations. “Pakistani media is unable to hold itself accountable,” he said, adding that the media crosses its limits while giving stories to the judiciary to take notice of.
“The media and judiciary are interdependent, both went overboard while using each other to increase their strength,” Jan said. “But even then the Pakistani media can become a model for Afghanistan to eradicate corruption – provided it focuses more on journalistic investigation and produces evidence over mere allegations.”
This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Af-Pak Fellowship 2012 and published by The Express Tribune online on July 23, 2012.