What the PK-8303 Crash Tells Us About Ethical Reporting in Media?

The horrors of this year seem to be never-ending. 2020 already feels like an apocalypse. If it wasn’t for the ongoing Coronavirus that led to a staggering 4800 cases in the past 24 hours, then the crashing of PK-8303 certainly shook the nation to its core. Two days prior to Eid, when the joy of seeing one’s loved ones kept everyone up at night, no one anticipated the tragic fate that laid ahead. One hundred and seven passengers on board, sixty seconds from the runway, but the destination was not to be Jinnah International Airport. That is precisely what makes the vagaries of our life unthinkable: a lapse of just a few seconds.

While the whole country mourns the devastating loss of precious lives, the media was quick to exploit the adversity for their gain shake. Moments after the crash, TV channels and social media were filled with unverified news about the number of casualties, names of passengers, and the cause(s) of the crash. Journalists and keyboard warriors were ahead in the perpetuation of this unauthentic reporting through their dubious analysis of the situation, when on the other hand, aviation experts had chosen to momentarily remain silent on the issue.

It comes off as no surprise that journalism in our country has always been contentious for all the wrong reasons. Any tragedy that leaves the people distressed and broken has further spillover effects by creating an aura of anxiety and fear. Yet, at a time when words of consolation are essential, our media makes the worst use of the pitiable state of its viewers. News coverage becomes a cascade of the gross depiction of the disaster through an inadequate, albeit exaggerated choice of words coupled with horrifying images from the site. Much to say, during the reporting of the PK 8303 crash, no attention was paid whatsoever towards the privacy of the victims and their families. For example, minutes after the crash, the list, and photos of passengers were widely seen circulating social media. When one searched for a glimmer of hope amidst the chaotic times, the sensational reporting by most TV channels overlooked the importance of confidentiality and the right to privacy. Additionally, the catastrophe was not free from the unnecessary blame-game, that primarily made the Head Pilot, the central target of the discourse. The captain was accused of failing to follow the instructions from the Air Traffic Control that hence led to the unfortunate mishap. What may have eventually led to the tragedy is beside the point. The incumbent of concluding the cause lies only with the investigation team and it would have been more appropriate to pay some respect to the pilot’s family during a situation that must have left them deeply disturbed.

On another similar occasion, a recreated animation from an apparent simulator game was falsely attributed as the actual demonstration of the crash. Before it could even be checked for authenticity, the post pervasively found itself on various social media platforms. Despite users pointing out that the video had been uploaded on YouTube a year back, no action was taken in any capacity by PEMRA or other regulating authorities.

The recreated simulation image of the crash

Many questions were asked, and several justified doubts were cast on the authenticity of the media in our country. Most inhibitions pertained to the ineffective training of the newsroom staff, reporters, and journalists to ethically handle sensitive situations. The mischievous race towards attaining the maximum rating comes at an evident cost of an invasion of privacy, factual inaccuracies, and unwarranted sensationalism. If one media station sensationalizes the issue, other competitors are forced to follow suit to avoid losing ground on the target audience. The obvious consequence is a blatant disregard for professionalism and an aggravation of the crisis by manipulating the sentiments of the viewers.

In a country of 190 million people, the media, as a social institution, has been nefarious and bitter. For years, the impartiality of the industry has been contested for propagating the interests of a particular segment of society. And to fester the already damaged image of the institution, the credibility of reporting has further problematized the notion of neutrality. It is about time we realize the precarity of the issue and demand a greater focus on ethics and professionalism from our media.


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