On the morning of July 28, I woke up to the news of a plane crash, it was a text message from a friend asking for details about the incident. Instantly I was glued to my TV screen, shocked and horrified as the news regarding the tragic incident began to unfold. Airblue flight ED 202 coming from Karachi had crashed into the Margalla hills, with over 150 people on board. The initial images from the crash site showed fumes of thick smoke amid mountains, army and airforce had been put on high alert while the locals had already made their way to the site. Knowing rescue and disaster management in Pakistan, I had little hope for any survivors. We should have no qualms in admitting that despite increased incidents of terror attacks,with at times almost one bomb blast everyday, we continue to struggle with our rescue and disaster management.
Most of these emergency conditions are tackled by either the army or the Air-force. Therefore, the rescue operation and hunt for survivors of the crash did not appear very promising. As the day passed, people gathered outside their offices, shops and on the road to watch fumes of thick fog covering the site with helicopters surveying the area looking for survivals. Dozens had volunteered to help look for survivors. While most mourned the incident and stood in solidarity with the victims, television channels made the situation worse. News coverage of the site reeked of sensationalism, instead of responsible reporting, the country’s most popular news channel resorted to use their time and energy to create an animation about the incident.
Disgusting, unethical, shameful and downright insensitive.
But it did not stop here. Rather than reporting necessary information regarding possible survivors, media channels kept boasting about being the first ones to break the news. Most television channels kept airing reports without confirmations, with in a few hours after the incident, one of the TV channel announced that there were no survivors from the crash, only to conflict with reports from the interior ministry about at least five survivors being taken to nearby hospitals. By this time, relatives started flocking to the hospital emergency rooms, trying to catch-hold of doctors and hospital staff inquiring about the whereabouts of the injured. Relatives of the deceased pilot made their way to the hospital emergency after news channels aired reports suggesting that the pilot was rescued and was airlifted. None of these reports were confirmed before airing, and all of them turned out to be mere speculations. Reports confirmed that there were in fact no survivors from the crash leaving the families and relatives of the victims shaken and disappointed.
Despite the tragic news there seemed to be no improvement in media coverage of the incident. Reporters kept badgering families of the victims for quotes, following and zooming in on faces of people mourning the deaths of their loved ones. Even worse were the images being shown from the crash site, close ups of blood stains and scattered body parts along with debris, while a reporter gloatingly waved travel documents and identity cards from the site. None of these media channels for once thought of the implications of such irresponsible reporting, perhaps the only thing on their mind was to sensationalize the news and develop conspiracy theories.
News anchors could not even wait for a few hours before pinning the blame, and within a span of a few hours news coverage of the event turned into aircrash investigations.To make matters worse, one private channel went even further and claimed to disclose the Pilot-to-tower recording, even before any official statement was issued. Making mere speculations sound like facts, irresponsible reporting only added insult to injury. In the aftermath of the attack, speculations regarding a possible terror attack spread even more paranoia. There is absolutely no justifications for the unethical coverage of one of the most tragic incidents in Pakistan. Miserable reporting only draws more attention to the need of reinforcing media ethics and to form regulatory bodies monitoring violations. I have always been an advocate for freedom of speech, during the Musharraf led crack down on media I was amongst many others who vehemently spoke against the ban. But when we marched the streets and enchanted slogans, we were advocating freedom of speech and not endorsing unethical reporting or abuse of power. As part of the civil society, I am immensely disappointed by senseless reporting and strongly feel that we are in a dire need of reinforcing media ethics.
Since reports from the crash are still pouring in, I will refrain from speculating on the reasons of the crash. But what I know now is that 152 people lost their lives in the tragic incident, as a nation in mourning we must stand in solidarity with those who have lost their loved ones, we must avoid speculation and top feeding on conspiracy theories. If there is one thing that should stand out, it should be the brave impulse of ordinary people who rushed to the scene and volunteered to help and support the rescue teams.