Media Priorities

Sep 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Daily Times, Dawn, The Nation, The News

Today we began what we believe will be an interesting experiment in observing media priorities. We started by looking at what different newspapers found to be worthy of front page coverage and also the topics of each paper’s editorials. The results might surprise you…but probably not.

Yesterday, Pakistan suffered a serious attack in which at least 33 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded. The attacks targeted a Shi’a procession in Lahore. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack almost immediately.

With this recent tragedy still fresh in the nation’s consciousness, we wanted to know what the media companies thought was important today? First, let’s take a look at the front pages of several newspapers:

Dawn Front Page 2 Sept 2010 The News Front Page, 2 September 2010 The Nation Front Page, 2 Sept 2010
Judging by column space, the most important story seems to be what a good deal you will get from the media companies’ advertisers. Okay, yes, newspapers do require advertising to keep subscription fees low. But it is worth noting still that The Nation has more advertising than actual reporting on the front page, though Dawn and The News are not far behind.

What’s more interesting, though, is what each newspaper thinks is most important to report on the front page. The Nation has a few stories about the attacks in Lahore, but devotes at least as much space to stories about Supreme Court’s hearings on the 18th Amendment, US-Pakistan strategic talks, NAB, and inflation.

Dawn devotes the majority of its print space to coverage of the terror attack in Lahore, with the next biggest stories being flooding and the Sialkot lynching.

The News devotes about equal space to the Lahore attacks as they do advertising, but the majority of column space is for stories about floods and politics.

Editorial Pages

Editorial pages are where the official position of a publication is printed. The following topics appeared today.

The News

  • Sialkot Murders
  • 18th Amendment and appointment of judges
  • School reading curriculums


  • Taxes
  • Criticism of US treatment of military officers
  • Objectives resolution

The Nation

  • Criticism of US treatment of military officers
  • Oil prices
  • Criticism of government handling floods

It’s interesting, I think, that none of these three major newspapers had any editorial condemning the Lahore attacks. Surely they will make some statement at some point, but why was it not a priority? That’s not to say that school reading curriculum and oil prices are not important, but why did the news organizations decide those were more important than making a statement on the killings?

American intellectual Noam Chomsky has spoken for decades about what he calls “manufacturing consent”. He describes the way that major media organizations decide what is worthy of discussion, and that this has an influence on the way that society evolves.

It’s basically an institutional analysis of the major media, what we call a propaganda model. We’re talking primarily about the national media, those media that sort of set a general agenda that others more or less adhere to, to the extent that they even pay much attention to national or international affairs.

Now the elite media are sort of the agenda-setting media. That means The New York Times, The Washington Post, the major television channels, and so on. They set the general framework. Local media more or less adapt to their structure.

And they do this in all sorts of ways: by selection of topics, by distribution of concerns, by emphasis and framing of issues, by filtering of information, by bounding of debate within certain limits. They determine, they select, they shape, they control, they restrict — in order to serve the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society.

Mr Chomsky was, of course, writing about the media in his own country, but the same theory pertains to our media as well. This is not a judgment against the media, but it is something to be aware of. Not only does the content of reporting shape the way people perceive certain issues, but the decision about what is newsworthy is a very powerful part of media. Thus, you should ask yourself – are the media’s priorities my priorities? Or are they different?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment »

  1. very sad and very true. thanks for pointing this out

  2. ‘The News’ reporter tortured, humiliated after abduction Updated at: 1756 PST, Saturday, September 04, 2010 [GEO Update] ISLAMABAD: Umer Cheema, reporter of The News Investigation Cell was tortured and humiliated during 6-hour captivity after abduction by unidentified men from Islamabad on Saturday. Giving account of the events of abduction and torture following his release, Umer Cheema said he was picked up by some unknown men in police uniforms from Islamabad Sector I-8 when he was returning home early in the morning at Sehri time and taken to an unknown place at 45 to 50 minutes drive.

    He said he was heading home in his car after meeting with friends. When he reached Sector I-8, a Land Cruiser blocked his way and pulled over in front of his car while a white Toyota came and parked right behind. “A few unknown men wearing uniforms of Elite Force came up to me, saying I crushed a man at Zero Point and drove off and then these men forcibly took me along with them,” Umer Cheema said. He said the men covered his face and took him to a building at 45 to 50 minutes drive. “I was held in illegal captivity for 6 hours during which I was continuously tortured and humiliated in nude. They stripped me out of my clothes, hanged me upside down and shaved off my head and moustaches,” the senior reporter of the country’s leading English daily recounted.

    Umer Cheema quoted the captors as saying: “Do you intend to have Martial Law imposed in the country by publishing anti-government reports?” He said the captors warned: “Stop writing against the government, if you cannot bear this torture and that Ansar Abbasi will be next target if I failed to stop.” They were also aware of my arriving in Gujranwala, Umer Cheema added. CLUES: House of DawnNews correspondent attacked by ISI sleuths 19 January 2010

  3. I wonder why the most biased and anti-pakistan newspaper was singled out? I am referring to Daily Times. Comparison would be just if it was also included. Would you like to elaborate on which page of Daily Times, the editorial condemned Lahore Attacks? Following are titles of articles in editorial pages of Daily Times on 2nd September:

    EDITORIAL: Social change through land reforms
    COMMENT: Floods and humanitarian medicine —Dr Mohammad Taqi
    COMMENT: Why martial laws go horribly wrong —Ikram Sehgal
    PENSIEVE: Trust the IMF —Farrukh Khan Pitafi
    VIEW: Power without responsibility —Lubna Ramay

  4. Mr Arsalan,

    Daily Times is certainly not without fault, you are absolutely correct. Daily Times newspaper was not included in the post only because I did not have an image of the front page to compare. By not including Daily Times or any other newspaper it was not meant in any way to be an approval. When I wrote the post, I had a short time to do it and the three covers that were included were the ones I had readily available, so I only included those. The problem described in the post – as you correctly observe – goes far beyond only these three newspapers.

  5. […] – and the newspapers accepted the offer. This raises further questions around the topic of media priorities that we began discussing last […]

  6. […] But there are some stories, like the NRO, that become regular reports. We have discussed before the question of how what is reported reflects media priorities, but it is also important to consider how particular issues are discussed and what that says about […]

  7. […] blog has mentioned before the issue of media priorities – the decisions by editors and producers about what stories are important and what stories are […]

Leave Comment