Are News Anchors Really This Powerful?

Are News Anchors Really This Powerful?
It was in mid-2002 when I bumped into an army general at a friend’s place in Islamabad. He was closely associated with the General Pervez Musharraf government. He knew I was a part of the Geo TV’s launching team and that the channel was planning to be launched on August 14 that year.

The general boasted unprecedented freedom granted to the media by Musharraf. He asked me, “Are you satisfied now, we have allowed TV channels to launch news service?”

I told him that the military regime was giving freedom to big money, not freedom to journalists.

He was unimpressed by my response.

Geo TV was the first to launch transmission in Pakistan, followed by ARY and other news channels. Big money was pouring into the media industry, news was being commercialized, which meant that the news value, objectivity and ethics were being compromised.

Traditional reporters and editors became anchors, hosts and analysts, always in a hurry to dish out half-baked news. They became the new voice of news. Unlike reporters of the print media, who were calm and informed in presenting news, the TV broadcasters began to handle breaking news, and became experts on all matters of national importance.

The culture of breaking news did not allow them the luxury of time to hone their craft. Yet they became celebrities. The consequences of the Lawyers’ Movement launched to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry empowered TV hosts and analysts. They realized they could mobilise public opinion. Politicians realized that they could influence people through the barrage of private channels and their celebrity hosts. An announcement on TV channel could lead to the gathering of thousands of supporters of the Lawyers' Movement on Constitutional Avenue in Islamabad.
Traditional reporters and editors became anchors, hosts and analysts, always in a hurry to dish out half-baked news. They became the new voice of news.

There was groundswell of opinion in support of the Lawyers’ Movement that led to erosion of the military government’s legitimacy and defeat of the King party in the 2008 parliamentary elections. The military dictator was forced to resign from the president’s office. And TV broadcasters became larger than life personalities, the new kingmakers.

More impact means more political pressures and more forces on the go to pressurize and influence the media. More impact also meant more severe arm-twisting and more lucrative offers for financial favours to those leaving a decisive impact. Unsurprisingly, some of the anchors boast of lifelong friendships with power hungry political leaders and ever-manipulative generals and spymasters. They could access the power corridors with ease, ask for financial favours and prime real estate plots.

Some of them started acting less as journalists and reporters and more as media managers. After an attack on Hamid Mir, senior journalists of Jang Group began to demand immediate resignation of DG ISI. This was indeed a political act and could by no definition be described as a function of journalism.

Likewise, after the torture of journalist Asad Toor, Hamid Mir delivered a speech threatening to reveal an incident involving a private life of a senior state official. Whatever might be the reality behind Hamid Mir’s warning, his threat was a political act.

The age of traditional journalist is over. The new age of journalism is all about presenters of news, views and analysis, who display a deep-seated desire to play a role in power struggles in Pakistan. No less rampant is the desire to serve as a media-manager and valorize the military as savior and defenders of the country -- immediately after you have a public brawl with a senior military official over his alleged role in an attempt on your life.

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad.