Time to identify black sheep in media

Media will gradually lose public trust if controversial journalists who spread fake news are not taken to task

On January 25, renowned TV anchor Dr Shahid Masood stated that the alleged murderer of 7-year-old Zainab was part of an international racket involved in child pornography and held at least 37 bank accounts. Mr Masood also alleged that the suspect is being backed by a federal minister and another prominent personality. But when asked by the apex court, the anchor failed to provide any sort of evidence to back his claims. State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) rejected the allegations and said there was no bank account under the suspect’s name.

This is not the first time Dr Shahid Masood has made baseless allegations. In 2014, the anchorperson told the famous ‘35 punctures’ story in which former Punjab caretaker chief minister Najam Sethi was accused of involvement in electoral rigging in favour of the PML-N. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan had been repeating the same ‘35 punctures’ mantra before Sethi took him to court for defamation. Khan then termed his allegations as a ‘political statement’ and the PTI apologised for its ‘35 punctures’ stance. Back in 2010, when an Airblue plane crashed in Islamabad, Dr Masood had claimed that the crash occurred after the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft gun from the President House. Evidence for the same were not provided either.

The brutal rape and murder of 7-year-old Zainab sparked outrage across the country. It is unfortunate that the issue is being used by some to further their own agendas. Dr Shahid Masood should have refrained from taking his hatred for the government too far. For a journalist, credibility holds a great deal of importance as it can make or break his career. But journalists today report news without cross checking the facts. The same was witnessed during the coverage of the Zainab murder case.

The Supreme Court took suo moto of the allegations levelled by Mr Masood and summoned him. The Punjab government also formed a JIT to probe the anchor’s allegation. During the hearing, Dr Shahid failed to give proves, but reportedly wrote the name of the federal minister on a chit, which was given to the chief justice.

During the episode, Dr Shahid was also interviewed by his fellow anchorpersons over the issue. When asked to give a single account number, he stated he had given the details to the apex court. Finally, on Sunday, when he appeared before the Supreme Court again, he once again failed to produce evidence to back his claims. The chief justice should have taken action against him instead of calling other anchors to express their views over the matter.

Dr Shahid Masood had also alleged that the government has released Rs 2.5 billion to initiate a campaign against him and that a journalist was handed over Rs 2 crores to ‘grill’ him. Some journalists requested the CJP to let the matter diffuse if Dr Shahid apologises. However, Dr Shahid remained stubborn and told the chief justice that he would submit the documents before the JIT.

Journalists should completely disown those who tarnish the credibility of the profession by acting in such an irresponsible manner

When the proceeding came to an end, the chief justice formed JIT under FIA Director Bashir Memon to probe Dr Shahid allegations and now the burden of prove is on him. In case Dr Shahid fails to prove his claims, a number of actions can be taken against him. There can be a contempt of court trial in Pakistan penal court and a case can even be filed in ATC, as has been stated by the CJP himself. He needs to be banned from appearing on TV if he does not apologise for levelling baseless allegations and misleading the public.

Media will lose public trust if such controversial elements are not taken to task. That a discussion on media ethics has started within the journalist community after the Shahid Masood saga is positive development, and this time such debates should yield results. Journalists should completely disown those who tarnish the credibility of the profession by acting in such an irresponsible manner.

The writer is an acdamic

Published in Daily Times, February 2nd 2018.