November 5, 2010 (4 weeks ago)
Media and politics
WE live in times when political events and conflicts are not simply reported but also enacted and performed in the media. The mass media, especially television journalism, is now intricately implicated in structures of dominance and political conflicts.
The latest example of such `mediatised` conflicts were the clash between the government and the judiciary over the unsubstantiated news that the former had plans to reverse the restoration of the Supreme Court judges. In the wake of the `breaking news` most television news channels held lengthy live broadcasts on the issue thus further exacerbating the conflict.
What has made television news channels and a segment of their print media counterparts powerful enough to affect the relationships between state institutions? What does the prevalent media-saturated environment of politics imply for the democratic transition in Pakistan? A critical public debate on these and other related questions is urgently required at the present conjuncture.
Media research scholarship advances the view that the political power of television journalism and related media is mainly embedded in their intertwined functions of news framing and political-agenda setting. Framing in particular is crucial in influencing public opinion and political communication.
Framing is an alternative way of presenting political events and issues, endogenous to the given social and political environment. In the case of electricity load shedding, for example, audiences may be presented with frames of reference such as power pricing, bad governance and corruption, adverse impacts on industries, lack of domestic energy resources, etc,.
The frames employed by the media reflect a privileging of certain aspects of an issue and the concurrent neglect of other aspects. Unlike conventional reporting, media frames inevitably entail an inherent bias. They are also templates for the content that decides the story line. It is now almost an empirical fact that the particular frame repeatedly imposed on an issue or event can influence public opinion and political processes. Media researchers have reached a broad consensus that framing is an extension of, or second-level, agenda setting.
In Pakistan, the emergence and growth of private television news industry occurred under the military-led regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf. Most of the frames now being used in television journalism were in fact formed under that dictatorial political environment. They revolve around certain conflicts and set the agenda in a way that promotes an anti-politics bias.
The play of politics is depicted as a dishonest and dishonorable business. Politicians are assumed to act out of self-interest rather than on the basis of political convictions. It is repeatedly claimed that politicians are not to be trusted because they make false promises. Reporters and anchorpersons pit political opponents against one another as a means of undermining all political claims. Whenever a politician makes a statement, media persons turn to his adversaries to challenge and attack it. In this way, anchorpersons and reporters become direct participants/actors in politics.
What we see in the news coverage of politics in some major Pakistani television channels is actually a sort of attack journalism that has its roots in the history of the American press. Attack journalism is a mindset and involves practices that go beyond ordinary partisanship, criticism, debate and investigation. It is aimed at prejudicing the public against their targets and thereby destroying them politically. Newsweek Washington Post
The nature of investigation under attack journalism remains selective and inquisitional and aims to convict and punish the target. Robert Samuelson, a contributing editor of and the , writes that all democracies need to examine their elected officials; the enduring dilemma, he...