Recently, my four-year old daughter alarmed me when she asked her grandmother to switch to the news channel instead of cartoon network on TV. Initially we took it lightly but we got concerned when she talked about bomb blasts, firing and injured people as a routine.
Can we deny the immense effects of media especially TV on an average household in our society nowadays. Majority of viewers are attracted to news channels for updates and real-life drama. There is a series of tragic incidents and natural calamities that have been sensationally reported on native news channels recently. You might recall the Earthquakes in 2005 and 2008, Floods in in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Air Blue (July 2010) and Bhoja (April 2012) airbus crashes, factory fire in Baldia, bomb blasts, ethnic clashes, corruption scandals and murder mysteries in this context.
Twenty Four Seven (24/7) news channels undoubtedly make us more informed but they also cause undue restlessness. Most people watch news channels to stay updated, however, such beware sessions convert them into rather frightened individuals.
It might be unfair to blame media for all the apathy and anxiety, actually caused due to increasing anarchy in the country. Undoubtedly media has played a key role in keeping public aware and politicians vigilant in the modern world. Though it hardly cares how it is influencing mass audiences in its race of attaining top ratings and advertising profits through minute to minute breaking news.
Take an example of live broadcasting of the video clips of young Owais Baig on local TV channels in November 2012. Owais, a young man, died after falling from the burning State Life Building in the presence of hundreds of spectators, media and rescue workers. Throughout his ordeal, continued for around 20 minutes, no sensible effort was made to save his life.
However, the tragic incident was telecast live till Owais fell to his death. The video, which was later repeated multiple times on almost every TV channel, raised several questions regarding national conscience, professional code of conduct and responsibility of the public and media.
It is suggested that native media must launch public awareness campaigns to educate and train masses about required actions during emergencies such as, giving way to ambulances in disaster sites, calling rescue service, getting first aid trainings and taking preventive measures to avoid such tragedies etc.,
Researches have assumed that heavy media exposure is likely to contribute to hypertension, blood pressure, heart diseases and depression in the middle and old aged people. It might also contribute to increasing frustration and anxiety among youth especially when they are helplessly subjected to irrepressible circumstances.
Afsheen Anwer, a psychologist, believes that TV kills not just a person but a persona, a psyche and a child’s imagination. She advocates that repeated exposure to onscreen violence generally lead to two possible reactions in children and youth i.e. either they become indifferent to what is happening in their surrounding or turn into extremely fearful and anxious individuals. Such individuals often overstress mishaps in their personal lives and in result are subject to the vicious cycle of negativity for good.
Nadia Zafar, news producer BBC believes that constant breaking news, bleeding red screens, and elevating noise levels go a long way in depriving news of essential elements such as balance, context and information. She adds, “TV journalists bear the responsibility of being the connection between the news and the people, and that carries with itself a sort of inherent duty to treat the viewers well.”
Starting with a more streamlined approach, we can set age levels and hours for programs rated unsuitable for children. That way parents would know when to allow children watching TV and when they should refrain leaving them unattended.
Mansoor Ali Khan, an anchor person on a leading news channel believes that Pakistan unfortunately emerges as the most active country in terms of tragic, breaking news especially during last two years. He says, “Since we are living in the times where such incidents are happening around us regularly, native news channels have no option but to cover them.”
However he added that news channels and journalists should be made accountable to a representative public body that must ensure responsible journalism in the country. He believes that unless we develop a transparent system to penalize media person for their misdeeds, we won’t expect quality journalism and responsible, balanced reporting on electronic media in Pakistan.
Sanam Rehan, mother of two children, comments “Children nowadays are sensible enough to understand that breaking news is something sensational as it often leads to a ticker announcing closure of schools the next day. She is concerned that exposure to such harsh realities has turned the children into more intolerant and aggressive individuals.”
In the absence of role models and weakening social institutions, media emerges as an alternative force that influences young minds. Pakistani media thus needs to revisit and revise its role as an emerging force while the civil society, parents and the audience must also monitor and regularize the role of media before it is too late. Rather than crying over the incidents of mass killings, public shootings and crude imitated violence by amateur juveniles under the influence of careless news coverage, it is the high time to take some substantial measures and safeguard these young minds.
Hareem Khan, a kindergarten teacher believes that at least we can keep our kids prepared for the potential dangers in our society while hiding the severity of the situation.
PEMRA rules 2009 clearly state, “No programme shall be aired which is likely to encourage and incite violence. More specifically the rules prohibit any program that denigrates children and tends to glorify crime or criminals.” However, there is hardly any implementation of the rule. Moreover, it is ironic to learn that most TV journalists, reporters and presenters hardly get any formal training and instructions related to news coverage of serious issues and tragedies.