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Hauling in the anchors

Publication: Dawn

Date: 02-03-2014

Web Link: http://www.dawn.com/news/1090468/hauling-in-the-anchors

They are the pundits of our times, reigning mostly unchallenged from their studio pulpits. Experts on just about every issue under the sun, from politics to the economy to cricket, they are afraid of nothing but perhaps the specter of low ratings. They are Pakistan’s numerous talk show hosts and now, for the first time, the judges are going to be judged. Well, sort of.

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The media credibility index, launched in June 2013 by a social enterprise Mishal Pakistan, aims to rate Pakistan’s talk show hosts, not by the amount of eyeballs they attract or by how effectively they can shout down their guests, but according to the the following criteria: professional competence, ethics, accuracy, balance, timeliness and fairness. These rankings are posted on their website on a weekly basis www.mediacredibilityindex.com.

“We also check if an anchor is wasting the viewers’ time by breaking for too many commercials,” said Puruesh Chaudhary who is president of a non-governmental organisation called Agahi, and one of brains behind the index. On timeliness, Puruesh Chaudhary, gave the examples of Meher Bokhari’s programme, which was interrupted by most commercial breaks compared with Fareeha Idris and Asma Chaudhary, who wasted the least of her viewers’ time by limiting advertisements, staying current, and focusing on content mostly.” This then adds or subtracts from the ‘timeliness’ score.

But how exactly do they arrive at these numbers? Ultimately, who’s doing the judging here?

Puruesh Chaudhary explained that students of journalism/mass communication from a dozen universities from across the country, (Fatima Jinnah University, Rawalpindi, Islamia University Bahawalpur, University of the Punjab, University of Balochistan, and International Islamic University to mention a few) did the assessments. These are done in the light of existing international standards, such as the Media Development Indicators of UNESCO, the Principles of Journalism designed by the Pew Research Center, and the European Code of Journalism Ethics. In addition, local codes of ethics, such as those of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Coalition for Ethical Journalism, among others are also taken into account.

“The members give scores to anchors on the given criteria in accordance with the various codes of ethics we examine. These are then verified by two PhD fellows and are also double checked by the Mishal team that manages the database,” says Puruesh Chaudhary.

So who is the index meant for? For one, it’s designed as a self-improvement tool for anchors so that they can compare themselves to their peers and figure out where they need to improve, if that’s something they feel they should do, that is.

Explaining why it was also beneficial to viewers, Puruesh Chaudhary said, “People tend to take anchors seriously and derive their own opinions from their programmes. This gives them a yardstick for judging a show not just because it is exciting and sensational but for its intellectual input and quality content.”

This index is not an accountability mechanism, according to its designers, but is also meant as a performance evaluation tool for human resource departments to help them hire the right anchor for their media organisations.

Before finalising the score board of how an anchor performed, the Index even looks at their top ten guests, where they hosted the show, the focus of the programme, intellectual input, and choice of topic, to mention a few examples.

For example while Najam Sethi, according to the credibility index, discussed sectarianism, India and business and politics in his 50 minutes programme Apas Ki Baat, Hamid Mir brought on to the table everything from India, terrorism, law and order, Pakistan army, foreign relations, and Musharraf etc and so did Mohammad Malick, who covered the Taliban, interfaith issues, diplomacy, corruption, sectarianism and business and economy.

Whether the index catches on in the mainstream or not, it’s an interesting first step to analysing Pakistan’s anchors and a useful tool for media research.

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