I feel like talking to our ‘anchorpersons’ of the electronic media, unless some of them feel that they already know it all! In any case, some of these distinguished personalities may find matters worth thinking about. So it is worth a friendly try.
Most of our anchorpersons seem to have been inspired by the anchor of BBC’s programme ‘Hard Talk’. This anchor is aggressive and, occasionally, embarrasses the person being interviewed. Most of our anchorpersons take pride in being aggressive. They try to browbeat those being interviewed. They test their patience and consider it a great measure of success if some reach the limit of their patience and prefer to walk out. Is this the only role of the responsible anchorperson-journalist?
The flood situation is indeed devastating and each individual in the nation is touched and disturbed by the havoc and misery meted out to the affected people. So are our anchorpersons. The electronic media has done well in reporting and informing the populace about the extent of the damage and the consequences. What they have also done, almost unanimously, is erode confidence in the civil administration in toto! At each and every location they have made it a point to register the absence of civil administrators and politicians. They have done it with force and passion. Yes, they have complimented the role of the army very correctly. The armed forces are responsible for providing rescue and relief. Indeed, they have done a tremendous job, even beyond the call of duty. Some have acknowledged the role played by 1122, which is fair. But these institutions are also part of the government, of the administration and the political set up. These have performed well because they are equipped with quick response facilities.
The primary role of the civil administration and institutions is to rehabilitate and reconstruct. This is basically a follow up of rescue and relief. What one feels is that there has hardly been any consideration given to the constraints of the civil administration. Every individual and all administrations are not geared for immediate response anywhere in the world. We have seen disasters in the US, Indonesia, Africa and many other places. Natural disasters, in their early stages, take a huge toll. If anchors focus entirely on the foreign visit of the president and conclude that the administration is not doing anything, then it is an immature act. Have all of you not been crying hoarse that powers be shifted to the prime minister? Have these not been shifted? Do you prefer to believe that it is only a hoax? Or do you feel that the PM is incapable of responding? What is it? How can the whole administration respond within hours and show its effectiveness at each and every spot that the media anchor visits? This was actually a time when the anchorpersons should have shown some forbearance, encouraged the administration to get its act together, and should have helped them by pointing out the results of their observations. This is the time to build up the heroes who are rising to the occasion. Despite political differences and personal reservations, it was time to applaud the Sharifs for contributing Rs 10 million, it was time to acknowledge Musharraf for contributing Rs 10 million, it was time to acknowledge the Hindu community in Sindh who have taken the responsibility to feed 2,000 families of the affected without any consideration of religion, caste or creed. It was time to appreciate a politician in Sindh, Islamuddin Sheikh, who is raising Rs 4.5 million a day for food and then distributing it. How about Edhi’s efforts and those of so many others?
I think it is time to acknowledge good work and appreciate the role models who are emerging from this disaster. It was funny that, while the information minister was giving details of the help sent by the federation to the provinces including thousands of tents, he was cut off for a commercial! And why do we not appreciate the valiant information minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who has shown exceptional courage and dedication even after the devastating personal tragedy of the loss of his only son?
I think what needs to be done is a careful presentation of the facts in a balanced way. Stop being so aggressive and interrupting everyone on the show. When you shout and speak more than the guest, you are projecting your prejudices and blocking the other point of view. If you believe that someone is hiding or misrepresenting the facts, then your calm and pointed questions will indeed expose him or her and the viewers will understand. Your aggression puts the viewer off. An anchor’s calm creates the benchmark for the tone of discussion. Please realise that viewers have already been educated, thanks to your efforts. Now they expect more. They look for an analysis of the situation. They want a dispassionate, thought provoking appraisal and a way forward. They expect public opinion to be motivated for short-term and long-term solutions. One anchor interviewed a Sindh ‘nationalist’ leader and probed his reservations about the present scheme of water management. Some positive thinking emerged. This was an example. While the nation has experienced this colossal natural tragedy and is prepared to avoid a recurrence, we need to focus on acceptable planning. If the civil government fails to rehabilitate, reconstruct and plan for the future, the media must take it to task.
Anchors have the power of communication beyond the reach of anyone else. It is the nature of your job that it is burdened with social responsibility. If you appreciate the good work of the armed forces, highlighting it is the right thing to do, but also encourage those who are sincerely mobilising. Build role models. Look at the causes and hold responsible those who have neglected the proper need for water management. Focus on developing a consensus on future strategy. Of course, expose corruption, mismanagement, apathy and incompetence. But be a role model yourself — of character, knowledge, investigation and decency.