TAPSA: “We Can’t Afford to Be Ethical: Professional Aspirations and its Limits in Pakistani News Media”
Ayesha Mulla, PhD Candidate, Anthropology
In 2013, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists surmised that at least 18,000 new journalists had entered the workforce, where almost 70% of these recruits had no formal training in journalism and less than 5% of which were women. Drawing on recent ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Karachi and in-depth interviews with a range of broadcast news journalists – from reporters and producers to executive producers – this paper traces how the professional aspirations of journalists turn on the ambiguous and volatile boundaries of sensationalist television news in Pakistan.
Among the frequent critiques levied at private news channels, the trope of the untrained reporter, dispatched to cover breaking news events, continues to feature regularly in liberal elite commentary. Invariably described as contaminating crime scenes, entering victims’ residences, shoving cameras and microphones into grieving family members faces and asking them inane questions in between their wails, these “unprofessional” and “unethical” reporters often find themselves in precarious dilemmas. Caught between the ratings-race to deliver breaking news footage to their respective newsrooms and simultaneously scapegoated by their corporate management when they step out of bounds, how do employees in the television news industry negotiate their journalistic ethics while operating in a climate of uncertainty that has both fed and threatened their daily work? Tracing these conflicting tensions, this paper will show how the prevailing discourse on the ethics of journalism (as aspirational and yet inadequate), becomes a site through which vulnerable labor in the Pakistani news media industry emerges as most apparent.