When journalism goes personal

It is true that all journalists have their personal views. At times, it becomes quite tough to deliver comprehensive and authoritative coverage of news and current affairs, without getting bias and partial. However, journalists, having a sacred responsibility, must rise above their personal perspective. Only by reflecting the diversity of opinion fairly, accurately and objectively can we hope to offer an balanced picture of what is really happening.

It is also true that journalists are the most vulnerable segment of society because they regularly receive life threats when they perform their duties. These threats against journalists could not be condoned in any way but at the same time our journalists have to behave like journalists. They should resign from their self-employed job of being some super heroes. Because due to this conceited attitude, they believe they are the only ones who know and understand how things work. They think they are always right and have the right to criticize people at will. This flawed tendency has led them to present their opinions as facts.

The case of Ansar Abbasi is a perfect example here. He is a big name and is respected by many. But the problem is that the element of impartiality, which is the most important requirement for any journalist, is non-existent in him. His news stories fit the profile of opinion pieces, but still they are presented as news items. This is tantamount to deceiving the common public. Because, common people take these opinionated stories as fact.

There is a difference in reporting a news story and having your opinion. A news story is written objectively by providing tangible references. It is strictly against journalistic ethics to include your own opinion while reporting a news story. You have to report the story as it is. However, if you want to communicate your opinion to people, then as a responsible journalist, publish it as your opinion. You have to provide room for people to disagree with your opinion. This is how responsible journalism works.

Just to give an example, on 8th of April this month, a story of Ansar Abbasi was printed on the front page of The News newspaper. The title of the story was, “Gen Raheel should not have said this”. This very title is Mr. Ansar Abbasi’s opinion. It’s not news. In his opinion, General Raheel should not have said when he said Army would preserve its dignity. But still The News printed Mr. Abbasi’s opinion as a news story.

In the body of that “news story” he writes, “After all this, there was no need for the army chief to respond …” Here again, he presents his opinion and wishes army chief had not responded. Further he writes, “Therefore, hatred towards Musharraf for his ‘crimes’ against Pakistan and his trial under high treason charges should not be seen as abhorrence against Pakistan Army”. Now here Mr. Ansar Abbasi doesn’t mention “alleged crimes” but straight away calls former President Pervez Musharraf a criminal. Even though, there is a major difference between an accused and a criminal. His “report” then ends with a sentence that reads, “I wish General Raheel had not issued this statement.”

Then he complains that he received a letter threatening him of dire consequences. He says, “I have an opinion on certain things, and that’s why I am being targeted.” There is nothing wrong with having an opinion but being a journalist entails some responsibilities. Your opinion should be featured through your articles and come under “Opinion” section of your newspaper. You must not present your opinion as fact. It must remain your opinion. When your opinion is printed in the guise of a news story, it plays the devious role of insinuating your ideas among the ordinary people of Pakistan.

Any sane person would agree that each institution has to abide by the constitution and must not transgress from its limits as laid down in the constitution. However, this holds true for all institutions. Everyone has to understand and perform his job reasonably and fairly, and must not meddle in the affairs of others. It is true for journalists as well.

In Mr. Abbasi’s recent article published in Daily Jang, which thankfully came as his opinion and not a news report, he claims that when General Raheel Shareef made that statement, he called Army House and tried to talk to the general to make him understand the real situation. Similarly in the same write up he says he went to Lahore, met Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and requested him to instruct his ministers to be very cautious while giving statements on Musharraf Trial. Is this the job of a journalist?

No doubt Mr. Ansar Abbasi might have done and said this with utmost sincerity and love towards the democratic process of Pakistan. But then one can argue, why can’t the Army have a say in things if it sincerely feels that things are not going in favour of Pakistan? If ‘sincerity and honesty’ is the plea of Mr. Abbasi then there can be no question in the sincerity and honesty of our soldiers who don’t hesitate for a second to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Pakistan.

However, there is a reason the constitution has imposed limits on institutions’ powers. Each institution has to perform its duties as laid down by the constitution and must not meddle in the affairs of others. The same goes for journalists. You either are a journalist, or you are not. If you are a journalist, your job is to report on things as objectively as you can, without holding any bias.

Having said all this, I must say that this is my opinion. You could, of course, disagree with it. However, how would it feel if this opinion piece is printed in The News as a news story tomorrow?

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