Bhoja Air crash: Where are our media ethics?

Published: April 24, 2012

Channels must give citizens the integrity and respect they deserve, and absolutely avoid the act of invading their space. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS

Hit by one colossal tragedy after the other, the people of Pakistan are heartbroken and disappointed. What could have been an averted disaster became the inevitable when Bhoja Air decided to fly its 40-year-old Boeing 737-200 for Rawalpindi on April 20, 2012.

Boarded by newly married couples, children and their parents among others, at 5:05 pm from the Karachi airport, the inaugural flight came hurtling down towards the outskirts of Rawalpindi at around 6:46 pm on Friday.

While I checked channels for updated reports and alerts on any survivors, I couldn’t help but notice how rash and obscenely inappropriate the local reportage was. As though adding insult to the injury, intentionally or not, local private channels barged in on grieving family members with distasteful and untimely queries while flashing images of dismembered bodies and weeping relatives.

It reminded me of the unfortunate incident when elementary school students from Faisalabad went on a fieldtrip to Kalar Kahar. Their poorly maintained, overloaded bus toppled over and killed dozens. Reporters reached the point with their cameras and microphones and the first question that was asked of a bleeding, confused child was:

Aap ko kaisa laga?

(How did you feel?)

Enraged by this vulgar question, I had no other option but to switch the television off. I can’t imagine what the child felt.

It brings us all to the primary question: Where on earth are our media ethics?

While arguing about this dilemma with my friend, he asserted that there is a dearth of journalistic ethics in the country due to lack of education on the subject, but I had to disagree. Certified academic courses on ethics, I opined, don’t necessarily enlighten individuals.

We all know someone who, despite their possession of laminated certificates, degrees and what not, happens to be the most vile and pretentious one in the circle. The same could be said of our local media; italicised mentioning(s) of bachelors degrees from XYZ universities and obscure media courses from obscure media centres don’t necessarily equip an organisation with general decency.

So it is not just about the lack of education on the issue, it’s about common sense – and no one needs to reach out to academics for that.

An unexposed, illiterate man from a remote village often knows that when one is grieving the loss of their beloved, it is imperative to provide firm, quiet support without invading their private space with a list of offensive questions let alone a glaring HD camera.

So is this what we think it is? Is a citizen’s suffering a golden opportunity for channels to cash in on?

Ratings soar high when mishaps occur. Millions tune in for a plethora of reasons: To view the government’s swift action (or lack thereof) to alleviate the situation, technical causes for the accident, help provided to the relatives left behind or possible corruption in the case.

I am amazed that in a series of banning everything under the sun, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) remains pathetically oblivious of the misconduct on part of the local media. No policy, in my knowledge, has been presented or passed by media watchdogs in terms of ‘letting people just be’ during fatal incidents.

In a shoddy attempt to display compassion and emotion, the reporting of the air crash was accompanied by melodramatic tunes in the background on various channels and sudden images of limbs and blood sans discretionary warnings.

Twitter and Facebook exploded with justified rage. Everyone agreed that channels must give citizens the integrity and respect they deserve, and absolutely avoid the act of invading their space with images, questions and damned cameras.

After checking a poll held by The Express Tribune, it somewhat allays my disdain for local reportage on tragedies to know that 77 percent of Pakistan’s online presence disapproves of how the media covered the Bhoja Air crash.

While inquiries will be made into the apparent corruption of the Bhoja Air company and of the negligence exhibited by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and aircraft manufacturers, it could be rightfully said that a judicial commission ought to be formed into straightening out the disorderedly behavior displayed by our news channels.

Pemra must re-evaluate its priorities and understand that some things actually need to be banned. For example, intrusive, glamorised reportage during tragedies.

It’s simple: Get to the bottom of the case without getting under our skin. A citizen’s suffering is not your chance to increase ratings. Show some respect.

Read more by Mehreen here, or follow her on Twitter @mehreenkasana


Mehreen Kasana

An American Pakistani student, blogger and doodler in Lahore. She enjoys writing satire on culture and politics. Mehreen tweets @mehreenkasana.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mangoman

    We read same kind of piece after Air Blue crash and on several other occasions. And it seems like that Media is responsible for every accident in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Usman Shahid
  • Omar Khan

    Media is a reflection of the values and ethics of society, so its no surprise they go down to new lows to get ‘ahead of the game’. According to online records, plane was 27yrs old and not 40yrs as mentioned in this piece. The average age of Bhoja fleet is 27yrs, 29yrs for Shaheen Air and 23yrs for PIA.Recommend

  • Hasan Awan

    The breaking news syndrome is hampering any goodwill associated with the Media. I was also disgusted by the attitude of the media recently when they disregarded any norms of news coverage and even some news channels show live coverage of crash site and showed severed body parts with no censor what so ever. Even the bereaved families were not spared and there were weeping family members there and news reporters were shoving mics inside their throats and asking them silly questions. Even one news reported gone as far and he was asking one family of a victim who were waiting at the airport that ” What it seems to be when you know that you are waiting for your loved one and in fact you know he is dead”.
    Our media lost all the ethics recently. Showing pictures of women and children from the luggage of passengers to the questions and even they were the hindrance to the rescue operations as they stormed the crash site and airport.
    The government and media authorities should define some Standard Operating Procedure ( SOPs) that how some event have to covered in the wake of any disaster weather it is a plane crash , murder investigative report or a bomb blast site coverage. The sensationalism in the news must be ended at all costs. Recommend

  • fatima

    I don’t have any idea where from they got this Definition of Freedom Of Expression when media ki azadi is concerned. Each time i am looking around for some news i use to mummer expect the unexpected, and here it comes Aap ko Kesa lga….???
    someone out there seriously needs to regulate the ways for our media .Recommend

  • Moony

    Its a matter of great concern and should be highlighted the way it has been done in the article, Pakistani media tries to follow the footsteps of Indian media most of the time. Increasing rating is their right and they should be allowed to do that but not at the expense of human emotions. Respect for people’s feelings should have a top priority under the circumstances such as this plan’s crash. Recommend

  • akka

    ARGH! This is the second media-angst piece by Tribune on this issue so far. Can you guys please get over your hangups and actually do something about it?Recommend

  • SA

    Excellent write as usual, Mehreen. Always like reading your blogs; they’re insightful and well-thought out. I would like to point out, however, that while education does not guarantee enlightenment, there is also a dearth of severe media science/journalism degrees being offered in our colleges, even the top ones which offer social sciences degrees (Szabist is a notable exception). Its not just about ethics; its also a lack of journalistic training/skill being imparted; nor do media agencies bother much with training in this regard. Finally, of course, as you pointed out, PEMRA is absent; and our channels are caught in a capitalistic frenzy to capture the highest rating; hence, sensationalism truimphs over insightful/objective reporting.Recommend

  • karim

    it was voice of my heart. Thumbs up for your good effortsRecommend

  • Shady

    I wonder if such reporting is inspired or influenced by how things are run in India. The over-dramatizing background music for example is borrowed from there, maybe to incite the inherently extra emotional instinct of the people of the region.Recommend

  • awGilani

    Simple answer … there hadn’t any from the beginning Recommend

  • A Pakistani

    Pakistani media (tv,print & online) will do anything to get rating, money and publicity. Be it Veena Malik or dismembered bodies for the plane crash victims. This media will even put one’s life in danger by having them open up in a talk show barely providing them any security.

    God Bless Pakistanis Recommend

  • Aleenah

    All these unethical and immoral doings cannot increase the ratings or viewership whatsoever.Recommend

  • Ridz

    This is very genuine issue.And the topic is of great concern.They should’nt ask such silly questions.Besides all things they have no right to discuss the personal issues of anybody,like shoaib nd sania’s wedding issue,when media show such trivial and petty things that what the sandel she’s wearing nd all that.This seems to me very cheap.I think there should be laws and rules to limitized the media.Recommend

  • Fauzan Naeem

    Media has been playing a good role over the past few years however I think there is a limit to which they can go and report the incidents. Agreed that media gets to incident sites quicker than most other relevant authorities but they have gone a bit far.
    Showing sullen crying faces, harassing relatives of victims, sensationalizing the news and dumbest questions like “Ap ko kaisa mehsus ho raha hai?” Showing animated images of plane crashing in the background and constantly repeating them.
    People label Geo but every news channel did this and regularly does this. There are some boundaries which should not be crossed, but sadly there is a lack of ethics, and probably that’s us in general, not just media. Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed

    “Negligence” of the aircraft manufacturer? Did you say that? What has the Boeing company the makers of this aircraft have to do with anything?Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Pakistani electronic media sucksRecommend

  • mudasar nawaz

    40 years old? Channels are also in rush like you for news to be announced to verify and ascertain the situation !Recommend

  • FaiselH

    Media should be informing, not inundating.
    Such tragedies are compounded by their insensitive,unprofessional reporting.
    Their reporting standards are devoid of ethics.
    They shamelessly trample the basic human rights.
    To sum up, their vulgar sensationalism is below Human Dignity.Recommend

  • BobbyRao

    Media has been aggravating the events and damaging the image of pakistan right from the start. Thats the only reason why i love the OLD PTV of 90’s at least at that time the outer world thinks that pakistan is safe now because of these private channels outer world think us more than worse than iraq/afghanistan….. Recommend

  • Torrent

    The coverage of this incident by all channels was pathetic.Recommend

  • The Only Normal Person Here.

    Media retort to this is that this is what public wants to see, and this is actually a reflection of our society. Which is lame. There have been times where public has out and out denounce certain acts and personalities of Media. But we still see those acts recurring and those faces resurfacing from time to time. Anyhow, good points you raise. Thumbs up for speaking against your own fraternity. Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    Media ethics on plane crash reporting, i have shown in the form of a cartoons at the link

  • fareed ahmed

    What can we say about Media ethics.So much has been written by so many people on this subject. but they will never learn.Choice with people is to change the channel,but other channels are also doing the same thing,therefore its best to switch off the tv.

  • Farhan Khan

    I rank Our Media and Politician at the same point. Both have the same Tag-Line:
    Any Thing is Fair for Money.Recommend

  • citiman

    So, the problem is with curriculum of media studies atleast. It is demanded that media-man should be taught by good teachers who also teach them the ethics and values as well.
    Very well written and it is the call of the day!Recommend

  • Aqua28

    @ Mehreen, Its very important topic to discuss as media should feel its responsibility of what they are showing on TV. It’s a mass media actually so irrespective of gender, age and sect, they just publish the news which impact in same way and on bigger canvas Media can play much better role in this arena as they got chance to build a new Pakistan through information, knowledge but I am very sad to share that media is not feeling its responsibilities. In Europe, we talk about Fox News and here we have many channels like that which only believe that issues need to be highlighted in a spicy manner. We humbly request, that at least highlight the positivity in the society. Here are few of my suggestions;

    Train your reporters that what questions need to be asked in which manner?
    Add informative programs as much as they can.
    Present our culture for this youth NOT to indulge outsider’s culture in us.
    There are lot more issues to discuss in this society, but not the Cat Walks. As people are struggling for cloth, food and shelter here, they can’t afford this luxury.
    Improve the morning shows as it should be a lighter stuff early morning, do not need dances on Indian songs and marriage arrangements in which actors need to practice dance for themselves.
    Encourage the real stars of this nation not the fake ones.

    This is all what I have in my mind. Later I will share more.

    Regards, Recommend

  • Shanni

    Agreed. Our media, and indias media, we both got no ethics. We make stories to get ratings but in the background we are hurting common people and our country at large.
    Thanks for writing thisRecommend

  • Meekal Ahmed

    Look at those idiots standing on the wing. This is crucial material in the investigation. Do NOT stand on it and do NOT move it. The investigators would like to know what hit where and in what sequence so they can work backwards and re-construct the flight profile. Recommend

  • arifa

    Your article is excellent .Recommend

  • Rafay Zaidi

    @Farhan Khan:

    i agree, they’l do anything for money/ increase ratings n all dat. apart from the questions they ask, the statement “ye khabar aapko sab se pehle XYZ channel ne di” really pisses me off…i mean there isn’t any award for this!
    they’l never learn and pemra wont do anything about this, our only choice is to change the channel or switch the tv off..Recommend

  • Ahsan Nisar

    As a nation we have grown accustomed to conveniently digest the sugar coated pills offered by the concerned authorities who brush aside issues such as loopholes in system and mismanagement ‘under the carpet’ in the garb of “conspiracy theories”. Before moving any further, let’s first dissect this “conspiracy theory mindset”.

    Conspiracy theorist mindset

    There’s must be something terribly wrong up in the air. First it was Air Blue crash in Margalla hills on 28th July 2010 which, till date, remains a mystery and now Bhoja air crash. The other day, one of my friends told me that the recent Siachen incident occurred not because of some avalanche or snow storm, as is common knowledge, but it was due to a laser beam that was shot from a satellite by NASA. The first word that came to my mind was “Conspiracy theory”…!!!

    In 1993, work on an ionospheric research program titled “HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) had begun in Alaska. A global geo-engineering project of this magnitude is the largest and most expensive endeavor ever undertaken in the history of mankind. It has dwarfed the construction of China’s great wall, the Egyptian Pyramids, and all of the other manmade wonders of the world combined. This geo-engineering program requires the cooperation of countless nations (many of whom are enemies), huge squadrons of specialized aircraft kept airborne 24/7/365, immense financial backing, and the combined resources of numerous corporations to supply the necessary facilities, equipment, chemicals, and the fuel required. It demands the collusion of most national governments, media, militaries, political systems, and multinational corporations.

    The whole concept sounds irrational. However, if one could stretch the imagination to include the possibility of global atmospheric modification being conducted on a global scale, then we must ask them two important questions. Why is this being done? And who is doing it? One of the reasons which they give as to why this is being done is to facilitate global population reduction to sustainable levels in accordance with the New World Order. As far as who is doing it is concerned, they believe this HAARP is being played by the same individuals and institutions that pioneered atmospheric geo-engineering.

    While it’s true that nations are vying for the Arctic treasures and colonization is creeping on the ocean floors, not every incident could be blamed on HAARP or laser beams. Recommend

  • Khurram

    I like your all Articles Mehreen. You are Awesome.Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed

    Ahsan Nisar,

    Go to the Pakistani CAA web-site and read the report of the Airblue accident — the first published report in 64 years. Recommend

  • furqan

    100 % agree with your article. Good work. Keep exposing these illitrate so called media people..

    90% Pakistani media is now valgur and intentionally dumb.Recommend