Pakistan's Opinionated Media Landscape
A cartoon depicting Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American accused of attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square
Pakistanis have a seemingly insatiable appetite for political news. Since the news media was liberalized under former President Pervez Musharraf, that hunger is being fed like never before.
Eight years ago Pakistan had one television news channel. Now there are 26 news channels, half of which broadcast 24 hours a day. But most of what is on offer hardly qualifies as rigorous, fact-based news. Rather, shows follow a familiar formula of a roundtable discussion by middle-aged men hashing out political conspiracies.
If that problem sounds familiar to an American audience, consider that in Pakistan it has taken on daunting proportions. That media phenomenon is what today's video report, "Losing the Media War in Pakistan," attempts to capture.
Media critics here say the problem lies with a lack of experienced reporters, and a lack of investment in investigative journalism, which has created a troubling tilt toward right-wing, highly opinionated talk shows. After all, talk shows are cheaper to produce, and easier to make. Granted, hard-hitting journalism in this country can often be dangerous, but another problem is sourcing. The same relative handful of personalities make rounds on the talk show circuit. Same people. Different day. Different channel. Most are more opinionated than informed, and as a result, talk shows are giving prominence to incredible sources.
For example, one of the more hard-hitting hosts is questioning a politician from an Islamic party who is convinced that the United States staged the Times Square bombing. His political rÃ©sumÃ© centers on education and religious affairs, not security, international affairs or terrorism. At one point, he even forgets the name of the bomber. The host does not press him to back up his claims.
Why is a national television program asking a politician without credentials in international security about a closed investigation taking part in another country? In some respects, the blame can be shared among conspiratorial guests, the ratings-obsessed producers who book them, and pandering hosts who play to their audience's worst instincts.