Yawar Abbas: Is the media fanning extremism?

Mar 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Uncategorized

The following thought provoking column by Yawar Abbas raises several excellent points for examination. The piece was originally published in Daily Times on 24 March 2011 and is re-posted here for your consideration.

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer at the hands of a religious zealot threw open the debate over the media’s role in encouraging extremist tendencies amongst the people of Pakistan. The proposition that the media is fanning extremist propensities may be somewhat overstated but is, at the same time, not completely unfounded.

During the last decade, Pakistan’s media has contributed positively to the cause of democracy in the country and also played an active role in the restoration of the judges through round the clock coverage of the famous Lawyers’ Movement. Nonetheless, serious doubts and conflicting views regarding the media’s role in the country have also accompanied these wide-scale developments.

Some of these views rise from concerns that the media is strictly averse to the idea of even the most modest regulation by the government and that it refuses to abide by a unanimously agreed code of conduct or ethics. The media groups in the country have grown into big mafias; they own print as well as electronic media — a situation that is almost unprecedented anywhere in the world. Critics also maintain that the Pakistani media is creating an environment of despair and hopelessness by presenting a very bleak picture of the country. This constant fear mongering and pessimistic outlook on such a broad scale can have its own psychological ramifications for Pakistani society in the future.

The most serious allegation levelled against the Pakistani media is that it is very cautious in reporting about the violence caused by religious extremists. TV channels are dominated by far-rightists and hardcore conservatives. There are very few left-wing journalists. Terrorists are called “militants” or, at the most, “miscreants”. This nomenclature is chosen very carefully. So far, the media has not been able to come up with a well-defined campaign against the terrorists’ extremist propaganda, except for a few occasional songs or advertisements. The media, at the very least, has a very high tolerance for accommodating extremist ideas in its mainstream reporting. A plausible reason put forth for the media’s sympathetic and sometimes apologetic tone towards terrorists is the lack of protection given to journalists and reporters by the government against such extremists. Nonetheless, at this critical time, maintaining such an indifferent posture is suicidal.

The propaganda put forth by extremists has undoubtedly been more effective than that of the government. Pakistan’s war effort has greatly suffered due to the lukewarm response of the country’s media. The media, it appears, is only obsessed with reporting about the death toll of drone strikes and army operations debating whether it is ‘our’ war or ‘their’ war. Blowing trivial issues out of proportion and ignoring issues of vital importance cannot be disguised under the garb of ‘neutrality’ — this is nothing but dishonesty. Sensationalising news, broadcasting hate speeches, inciting anger by inviting religious bigots on talk shows, re-telecasting events that are of a sensitive nature and may give rise to public unrest and a general feeling of helplessness, distorting somebody’s statement by quoting him/her out of context, allowing extremist figures to indoctrinate viewers by glorifying terrorists as jihadis, giving more airtime to apologists and sympathisers of militants and very little time to their critics and exposing audiences to the fanatical views propagated by semi-educated anchor-persons and politicians is by any standard yellow journalism and is reflective of an irresponsible media.

The masses, already susceptible to extremist ideas due to their exposure to fanatical preaching prevalent in society, are easily influenced by such radicalised media items. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that the same are gradually encouraged to take the law into their hands, without any regard for the sanctity of the rule of law and the system of justice. There is no doubt that such uninformed decisions emanate from the doctrine of ignorance being fed by such shortsighted political and religious ‘analysts’.

A possible solution to the problem is the development of a clear-cut position by key media players on extremism and terrorism. In this sense a well thought out counter-propaganda policy is much needed. The need of the hour is zero tolerance for extremism. Pakistan is at a crossroads in its history and the media has a crucial role to play in its future. One can only hope that it will play its part responsibly.

The writer is in the Foreign Service of Pakistan

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  1. […] See the article here: Yawar Abbas: Is the media fanning extremism? | Pakistan Media Watch […]

  2. Yawar Abbas: Is the media fanning extremism?
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    No doubt about that!

  3. The media is a powerful tool of communication. The jihadi movements
    are making the best use of it for the purpose of propaganda. We can
    take lessons from the recent past, when a cleric spread mayhem using
    an illegal local FM channel in Swat. Unfortunately, it was not
    countered in time and we are still facing its consequences. These
    jihadis disseminate their message via various websites, magazines and
    discs in different languages, targeting diverse audiences worldwide.
    Most of these messages available online can be picked up cheaply from
    almost any newsstand throughout Pakistan, despite there being a strict
    ban and a monitoring system in place by various intelligence agencies
    on such literature. The easy target of the jihadi media are usually
    the young, the less educated, and the lower income strata of our
    society. This jihadi media has become one of the biggest challenges to
    us and it should be countered as soon as possible. We need to educate
    our people using a counter-campaign.

  4. Well if you look in the context of Pakistan being a ideological security state then the matter became clear. Utopian dreamland based of on Pax Islamia has to survive on drum beating that mindset. It is very conveniently forgotten that very existence if country was made possible by employing tricks through shady means. A point in case is passage of resolution for Pakistan in Sindh assembly.
    background story and money dealings are described in Ayesha Jalal’s book sole spokesman.

    Add to this Jinnah man be the honest man. But a look on his clinet list will reveal the source of his wealth. All waderas , khans , jagidars etc were his clients. Money aside with what conscience he defended them in the courts. (Like pseudo intellectual aitzaz ahsan who charged hefty amounts in fee from BB n AZ in cases and privately told journalists about dirty money.) No doubt those waderas considered the newly liberated country their own fiefdom as they have paid the fee to the biggest lawyer available to them. Later on military with own mindset cultivated proxy armies and supported exploiters to gain n keep control of state.
    Media is just an extension of all that. If someone go through Zahid Chaudary’s labor of life series on Paksitan history this very same media created polarisation at all important junctions of the history.

    whether it be Nawa i waqt who was in forefront a champion of Punjabi chauvinism and disregarded Bengali and mohajir voices.

    then same press blank out the facts in east Pakistan. Bhutto never uttered words, ‘idhar tum udhar hum’. But it was Athar Abass who coined it. Later on jang’s role in sindh violence with headline ‘urdu ka janaza hai zara dhoom say niklay.’ only added fuel to the fire.

    presently media situation is of proverbial monkey with a razor in hand. and most of them are afraid of taking off iron caps which security establishment has put on their heads. so they are in fact shah dulah’s chuhas begging for attention but corporate demands have put a shining glossy face on them. This attention seeking as make them dole out half truths with ideological tint and loud rhetoric.

    And with illiterate masses and no glorious tradition of book reading these channels are very handy in molding public opinion. so they are arrogant and abusive of that privilege as well. add to that judiciary’s lust for public image building (in which country you will see front page news about CJ asking for a cricket match half day recess and arrangement for watching that live in SC area.) both of them are now hand in glove in encroachment over civil domain.

  5. The media is a powerful tool of communication. The jihadi movements are making the best use of it for the purpose of propaganda. We can take lessons from the recent past, when a cleric spread mayhem using an illegal local FM channel in Swat. Unfortunately, it was not countered in time and we are still facing its consequences. These jihadis disseminate their message via various websites, magazines and discs in different languages, targeting diverse audiences worldwide. Most of these messages available online can be picked up cheaply from almost any newsstand throughout Pakistan, despite there being a strict ban and a monitoring system in place by various intelligence agencies on such literature. The easy target of the jihadi media are usually the young, the less educated, and the lower income strata of our society. This jihadi media has become one of the biggest challenges to us and it should be countered as soon as possible. We need to educate our people using a counter-campaign.

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