Pakistani media and the breaking news syndrome

News channels in Pakistan are often criticized for “the breaking news syndrome” as sometimes this leads the channels to commit grave factual errors, creating a lot of confusion.

Recently this happened again. This time the breaking news was about release of an Indian death row prisoner from a Pakistani jail. therefore the news was of great importance for media in the neighbouring India too.

On June 26 almost all the Pakistani news channels reported that Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who has been in a jail in Pakistan, was to be released after President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari granted him a pardon.

There were not just headlines of this “significant development” in news bulletins both in Pakistan and India but many channels especially in Pakistan also held talk shows in this regard.

However, late that night the president’s spokesperson Farhatullah Babar clarified that the prisoner set to be released was Surjeet Singh and not Sarabjit Singh.

“I think there is some confusion. first, it is not a case of pardon. more importantly, it is not Sarabjit. it is Surjeet Singh, son of Sucha Singh. his death sentence was commuted in 1989 by President (Ghulam) Ishaq (Khan) on the advice of (then premier) Benazir Bhutto,” The News International quoted the presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar as saying.

Surjeet Singh was released afterwards and he finally crossed the Wagah border between Pakistan and India on Thursday.

According to The Nation newspaper, both Surjeet and Sarabjit had received death sentences and while Surjeet’s death sentence was converted into a life sentence, Sarabjit’s death sentence still stands which certainly makes him a high profile prisoner.

Nonetheless the whole episode related to release of the Indian prisoner not just highlights growing rat race of breaking news among Pakistani news channels as it also brings to surface challenges journalists in Pakistan, usually, face vis-à-vis access to information.

Therefore there is a prevailing perception especially among Pakistani journalists that if the government officials had shared proper information with journalists the confusion and related embarrassment could have been avoided.

Pakistani media and the breaking news syndrome

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