Author: Kaleem Butt, June 7 2017: The gatekeeper/editor plays a very vital role in journalism; a gatekeeper/editor is a person who is responsible for what is published or broadcast, he/she takes care of grammatical mistakes and whether the available information could be transformed into news. He/she double checks the accuracy of the information before making it public property. But after the emergence of social media, there has been negative impact on mainstream journalism. From 2000 onwards, social media has changed the shape of communication throughout the world People worldwide have been connected through social media platforms like Facebook, originally created as a platform for university students by Mark Zuckerberg, a student of Harvard University in 2004. Since then this medium has gained great popularity worldwide. Likewise, Twitter was introduced in 2006, WhatsApp was introduced in 2009, Instagram in 2010, Blogs and other such things - all these mediums used in social media provide information, news, pictures and videos. People could reach to information easily and inexpensively. However, there are many disadvantages of social media as far as journalism is concerned. Many times unreliable information passes onto mainstream media through social media, and there is no check and balance, and even abuses and allegations become part of news without any proof. There have been many incidents in Pakistan, where a journalist’s only source of information is social media. It is passed on and gets published or broadcast in the mainstream media. This research paper throws light in detail on the importance of gatekeepers/editors in journalism and the negative impact of social media on journalistic norms.

  

1-Introduction:

Journalism has a large range of output among its entire media, and it is considered the most effective form of communication in the entire world.It is often said that any information communicated or relaying of the true events is journalism, but most definitely it is untrue. Journalism is all about putting ideas, events, comments, information and conflicts into context. (Rudin & Ibbotson, 2002).

Journalism is an investigation, and it is reporting issues and trends to a large audience, despite the many variations in journalism. (Alice, 2013).

Mass media in Pakistan both print and electronic during seven years (now fourteen years) has seen a rapid growth. There are many English and Urdu dailies and weeklies and countless newspapers and publications in regional languages. After 2000, more than 50 private channels started, while there are three state owned channels, among those channels, more than twenty are news channels…. (Mezzera and Sial, 2010).

Pakistani media has faced four dictatorships. The last one was the longest of all. Media has faced hardships at the hands of dictators, who imposed censorship, and many journalists have been killed during target killings. However, the revolution in the media industry was seen during the regime of former President and Retired General, Pervez Musharraf, who gave liberation to the media (especially electronic). There is also this theory that all this was done to show the world some liberal face to convince others of his legitimacy as a dictator.

In 2002, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was established to regularize the electronic media in the country, and, by this, a mushroom growth of privately owned News and entertainment channels has been seen during the past twelve years. Some 91 TV channels and 146 FM channels have been given licenses. Such an outstanding growth in media has empowered the general public’s voice, and it was seen that those who thought they were not accountable to anyone started to answer the public because of vibrant media. It has helped people understand hard governing methods through political discussions and news coverage. (Baig Asad & Cheema Umer, 2009).

According to a report published by International Media Support in 2009, the demography of Pakistani media reflects many linguistic and ethnic groups. There is a dividing line between English and Urdu sections of media. Mostly, the rural population opts for Urdu media; on the other hand, the urbanized elite class focuses on English media. These newspapers, TV channels and radio broadcasting have lesser audience/readership as compared to Urdu media. Apart from the division of English and Urdu, rural and urban, the media in Pakistan is further classified according to different regional languages; all of them are vernacular languages including Sindhi, Punjabi and Pashto (Balochi). The owners of different outlets and groups have a dominating influence on the media structure. In Pakistan, three media groups are considered to be huge and dominate the media industry, each having a political affiliation as well. Since these three media groups dominate both print and electronic media, they have a huge impact on politics and society. From the past couple of years, the on-ground situation for working journalists in Pakistan has not been ideal, as approximately twelve journalists were murdered, up to May, 2009; and then another six journalists lost their lives while performing their journalistic duties. Journalists are threatened and intimidated by both state and non-state actors. Politicians directly or indirectly pressure them. The most common tool utilized by any sitting government is to cut-off government advertisement. Governments also use PEMRA [Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority], to stop or pressure media outlets broadcasting news and views against government; by suspending the license. (International Media Support (Report), 2009).

2-Role of Gatekeepers/Editors in Journalism:

 

According to different theories that have evolved in the field of journalism and communication, the gatekeepers are viewed as people who select and filter information. Mainly the process of gatekeeping/editing indicates controlling information passing from a filter or gate and has a relationship with enjoying various kinds of power, such as choosing news items or inter-mediating among professional and ethnic groups and others. The idea of gatekeeping started its evolution in the middle of the twentieth century. (Nahon Karine, 2009).

The theory of gatekeeping is among the oldest theories as far as the field of mass communication is concerned. It was given by a social-psychologist Kurt Lewin - according to this theory, gatekeeping is considered to be the process through which a large number of news items are reviewed and examined and filtered to a very few that are going to be telecast by the news media. These news items pass through various gatekeepers, such as reporters, sub-editors and news editors, before going on-air or in print, so a news story becomes a successful item after the decisionmaking of its various gatekeepers.

Gatekeeping is explained as a process that involves selection of information according to the level of importance and interest, and, in some cases, certain people, and, in other cases, a group decide how much of the information is to be published or on-aired. The gatekeepers/editors decide what is relevant according to their requirement. Information regarding important topics controversies and recent news stories are more often selected, as they would attract larger audience. Various gatekeepers decide what kind of information will be publicized, because each gatekeeper/editor always has his/her social, cultural, ethical and political influence. (Shabir Ghulam Prof., Safdar Ghulam, Imran Muhammad, Mumtaz Asad and Anjum Ali Ashraf, 2015)

In journalism, news editing involves the processing and packaging of news. It is an important portion of the editorial process, where editors transform reports and photographs into organized information. It is the function of editing that gives meaning to detailed text and photographs sent by reporters and photo journalists. It takes in the selected copy to be published. An editor is not directly part of gathering information, but he is the person, who helps reporters develop their stories. According to Emeranjo, an editor is a literary critic, gatekeeper, and a professional literary fault-finder, irrespective of his /her qualification, specialty, training, designation and other such things. An editor must have the following qualities: he should evaluate the work of reporters, and should make sure they follow standard usages. He should filter the news so that only relevant information is passed on to the reader/audience; he should find the faults; he should teach the reporters to take care of mistakes; he is not the one to catch stories but should stand between a reporter and reader. (Ukonu O. Michael, 2013).

3-Social Media and Its Emergence in Pakistan:

Social media is the term used to refer the electronic communication that have become the most common activity through the Internet, these include social networking sites that help people to share their point of views and to follow friends, family and other people, it shows the trend of how people come to know about news, read and share it. Social media is the platform where people intermingle with each other without any restriction. During the 1990s different chat rooms and bulletin boards were kinds of social media used to share their interests and information. (Alice, 2013). Social media is considered to be a rapidly growing and always changing atmosphere; it stands on four pillars: communication, engagement, faith and transparency. (Rosa Sophie, 2013). Michael Dewing (2012) describes this term social media as a platform having a wide range of services that are Internet or mobile based. Blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, social networking sites, podcasts, forums, micro-blogging and status update services through the Internet are social media, and they are often called as Web 2.0.

It is further claimed that there are more than 110 million blogs, 100 million videos and more than 123 million facebook users worldwide. Seventy percent of population in developed countries using social media and Internet is under the age of twenty-five years. In the November of 2012, a social network, namely Facebook, announced that it has 1 billion users worldwide, 18 million of them are Canadians. In the same way in July 2012, Twitter mentioned that it has 517 million users across the globe.

In Pakistani society, social media is getting highly popular. Ejaz Abida (2013), quoting Kugelman, writes that people in Pakistan use social media to communicate - they use it for five purposes: to share breaking news missed by mainstream media, to motivate people for social and other campaigns, to bring to light issue and problems regarding humanitarian aspects’ activities based on social causes, and to be a medium between politicians and the public.

Internet in Pakistan emerged in 1995; and the World Internet stats 2013 suggest that Pakistan ranks eighth out of ten highest Internet using countries of Asia - social media sites are highly popular among the younger Pakistani generation. (Karamat Ayesha and Farooq Ayesha, 2016). Qureshi Umair (2016) claims that in 2016 the users of facebook in Pakistan have reached to the number of 20 million, and this famous social site has seen epidemic growth within five years. Quoting Facebook Audience Insights, Qureshi mentions that approximately fifteen to twenty million Pakistani men are facebook users, while five to six million are women users.

4-Study of Journalist Opinion on Social Media

During this study, approximately one hundred and fifty journalists throughout Pakistan were asked certain questions about the possible negative impact of social on journalism in Pakistan, and their responses are given below:

 

  • Is Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, etc.) a replacement of journalism?

All the respondents were of the opinion that social media is not the replacement of mainstream journalism as journalists follow a code of conduct and ethics, and they are professionals knowing all the norms, and they know what is to be shared with an audience as news. In contrast, anyone can share any nonsense on social media.

  •  How do you look upon the role of gatekeeper/editor in today’s journalism?

All the respondents agreed that gatekeepers/editors have keen importance as they are the ones who take responsibility for what is being published or broadcast.

  •  Please discuss in detail why you are satisfied or not with content available on social media?

The majority of respondents were of the opinion that they are not satisfied with the content as most of the time the information shared on social media is unreliable, has no credibility and is not verified from any sources. Many times opinions are presented as news items.

 

5-Findings & Suggestions:

Social media has many negative impacts on journalism in Pakistan because:

  • the flow of unreliable news is seen more frequently on social media;
  • manipulated news and videos are shared; and
  • there are many Pakistani journalists who take social media as their source and start reporting it.

 

Since there is no gatekeeper/editor on social media that could control and check and could make the information presentable, many times misguiding information floats on social media. Often the news and opinions shared on social media are misinterpreted and are taken from a wrong angle. It is the gatekeeper/editor who takes care of elements of news that include five “Ws and H” [What, Who, Where, When, Why, How], but in social media these standards are not kept in view and everything is presented as news.

 

Many times journalists share videos and photographs from social media to their papers and channels that are not of the standard and are made up to the requirement of the journalism. Since the journalists, especially working in electronic media, who always remain in a race to break the news by hook or crook, often rely on social media and pass the information shared on social media as breaking news without verification. There have been many incidents in which mainstream media has used the information from social media without verification and after which the information is discredited.

 

Due to social media, journalists opt for lazy journalism (this term was used by senior journalist Nusrat Javed); lazy journalism is when the journalist avoids going into the field to collect facts and figures, while relying on sources like social media and, by doing so, stirs up serious questions on the credibility of the journalist, as well as on the profession of journalism. Distorted language, abuses and allegations are commonly seen in various social media platforms, and the journalists may send the same information without censoring abuses or allegations. Many times news headlines are made from social media information, in which most of the time, journalistic ethics are kept aside.

 

Gatekeeper/Editors play a vital role in journalism. He/she is the person who takes responsibilities of what should be presented to the audience; he/she is highly qualified person in language and is fully aware of journalistic norms. There should be some kind of gatekeeper/editor also in social media who should control the information and refine it before it is shared. Though the Pakistan government has passed a cybercrime bill in 2016 to control hate speech, fraud and crime through Internet and social media, the government should also regulate some sort of gatekeeper/editor when same news is shared through social media exclusively. There should be such a process that only the news which has already become part of mainstream media should be shared, while exclusive news items or information should be left out until verified.   

 

6-Conclusion:

Though this age is known as the age of communication, there are many means of communication available to people, and a common term that world has become a global village always roams around us. Within the span of just twenty-five years, social media has changed the shape of information sharing throughout the world, and a country like Pakistan is not left out. Political and ideological battles are nowadays fought through social media, and those political parties that are active on social media are considered to be more popular than others. Political, religious and community leaders use social media more frequently to interact with their targeted audience.

There are many advantages of social media, - people can easily access information, and it is also used for entertainment purpose, but it has many limitations as far as journalism is concerned. The role of gatekeeper/editor should not be ignored in journalism, especially in a country like Pakistan, which is facing endless problems, and most of the problems are just the creation of media. Social media has made journalists lazy, as, rather than going in the field, many journalists use the information shared on social media. Unreliable and unverified news becomes part of the media, and people are misguided. Without the concept of gatekeepers/editors, the future of journalism seems dark.

 

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Ibid, 2009

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