30th August 2012
By Alexandre Leclercq

Pakistan’s GEO TV Takes Aim at Unethical Journalism

Aidan White

After a series of high-profile media scandals there is much gloom about the state of journalism in Pakistan, but now the country’s leading private broadcaster GEO TV has pledged to raise ethical standards in a ground-breaking campaign to win the trust of viewers.

The network has published a detailed mission statement; agreed a code of conduct with detailed ethical guidelines; and is opening itself up to public scrutiny to confront a crisis of confidence in journalism.

The action aims to halt a slide in the quality of broadcast journalism after ten years of rapid growth across the region. In India and Pakistan the media landscape has expanded dramatically. Both countries have dozens of 24-hour news channels jostling for prominence in crowded media markets.

But robust competition has squeezed editorial standards. Networks pay little attention to ethical norms in their rush to deliver a stream of sensationalism and scandal driven by ratings and a news agenda focused on violence, crime, sex and celebrity.

Not surprisingly, there are worries of political intervention and legal controls to follow unless the industry cleans up its act.

Those fears are felt particularly in Pakistan where recently high-ranking judges and media clashed  in a scandal over bogus journalism and the beleaguered broadcast regulator was given a dressing down by the country’s chief justice.

This was just the latest in a series of embarrassing blows to media credibility in recent months. Earlier this year 17 networks were condemned for grotesquely offensive and lurid coverage of an air crash.

Meanwhile, highly-paid media anchors have been exposed for disreputable conduct and there are widespread accusations of media scandal-mongering with journalists in the pay of the secret service or powerful businessmen.

To counter this crisis the Ethical Journalism Network has been working on the ground with local partners to promote industry action to strengthen newsroom ethics. The launch of the Coalition for Ethical Journalism in Pakistan has opened up a new front in the struggle to enhance the quality of media self-regulation, with calls for reform of the Pakistan Press Council and the broadcasting regulator PEMRA.

Now GEO, the country’s richest and most-watched television company, which is part of the powerful Jang Group, has set out its own strategy for media ethics and corporate social responsibility which it hopes others will follow.

It is a bold move, and will surely revive the spirits of weary campaigners for journalism as a public good. But many media watchers will want to see if GEO can deliver on its promises and whether other parts of the Jang Group will join the party, among them some newspapers with a notorious reputation for playing fast and loose with ethics.

Photo Credit: UCA News