The Rise Of Media Activism In Pakistan

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Pakistani media has undergone an extraordinary expansion since liberalization in 2002. Though the print media has also expanded, the revolutionary advancement has been witnessed mainly in the electronic media and the relatively newer media type called social media. The liberalization has resulted not only increased quantitatively in the number of media outlets but there is an increased media activism and penetration of media in several aspects of Pakistani life. The activist media is commended, at times, as the ‘only hope’ for Pakistan, due to its role in mobilizing people. At other times, the activist media is condemned as being unprofessional and for exceeding the boundaries of journalism by venturing into political engagement. The media activism is resulting in accountability and policy advocacy, but is also causing an unethical violation of individual privacy and sensationalism which in turn is adversely affecting the psychology of people in Pakistan.

Media activism is a broad division of activism that utilizes media and communication technologies for social and political movements. Methods of media activism include publishing news on websites, creating video, audio investigations, spreading information about protests, and organizing campaigns relating to media and communications policies. In Pakistan, this term is broadly used to denote the proactive, dynamic approach adopted by the mass media to influence public opinion, public perceptions and promote or erode certain social values. This connotation of the term comes closer to the concepts of stalking, sensationalism and prejudice adopted by the mass media in arrogating to itself the responsibility of steering the social transformation.

Theoretically, media activism is value neutral. Employed constructively, the media activism plays a vital role in flow of information, being a mirror of the society, acting as a watch-dog and advancing the work of social justice movements. In the recent history of Pakistan, the activist media has played an effective role in the success of the socio-political movements. In the movement for restoration of judiciary, the media activism was instrumental in rallying public support. For instance, in a run up to the Long March of 16th March 2009, Geo News carried out a series of public service message campaign for restoration of the judges. The campaign proved successful in mobilizing support for the movement, culminating in the restoration of judiciary. Similarly, an activist media has been instrumental in increasing transparency and accountability by exposing corruption scams in the public sector. Despite its positive contribution the media is blamed for sensationalism, irresponsibility, insensitivity and non-professionalism. In an online survey conducted by the Express Tribune, the results revealed that out of a sample of 1,025 Pakistanis and expatriates, 68% of respondents believed that Pakistani media spreads negativity; 67% felt that the media is sensationalist in nature and 53% thought that the media is partisan i.e. sponsored by political parties.

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The media activism is, therefore, viewed in the society as media’s failure to fulfill its responsibility in remaining within the limits of legal, moral, cultural and ethical norms of the society. One of the causes of activism in Pakistani media can be market demand: The news reporter enters into the rat race for breaking news because the breaking news brings viewership to the channel. The news anchor kicks up controversy and triggers politicians in talk shows because it increases rating of the programs. This demand driven production of media pieces has gone as far as the religious programs. “During the holy month of Ramadan, channel owners and advertisers try to cash in on religious sentiment, by hiring celebrities to host ever more elaborate, though only marginally religious, shows” because such spicy coverage of the religious themes has a market amongst the audience.

The media affects people’s opinions, perceptions and priorities and activist media affects those actively. Media activism is exerting a profound impact on different aspects of life of people, including the psychology. It influences the way we relate our attitudes, values and beliefs about the world. It shapes our behavior about issues concepts and situations, affects the responses to social situations and plays a vital role in highlighting personality traits and attributes.

The media activism has both positive and negative influences on the public psychology. The positive contribution of the activist media, to the public psychology in Pakistan is towards generating the rights consciousness amongst common people. There is a direct correlation between the rights consciousness and the exposure to media – the urban middle class having more exposure to the media has an increased rights consciousness. This influence can be corroborated from the following social developments in Pakistani society.

People are becoming more aware of the rights they possess. For instance there is an increased consciousness of rights amongst the women themselves and the society at large. The old discriminatory traditions like rape and acid attacks, political discrimination through denial of voting rights to women in certain parts of the country remain under strict and frequent inspection by the activist media.

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