This blog has mentioned before the issue of media priorities – the decisions by editors and producers about what stories are important and what stories are not important enough to include in the day’s discussion. We have also explored the way that issues are reported differently between the English language and Urdu language media. Today’s story involves how these issues two issues can intersect to create a division among the people in how they understand important issues facing the nation.
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Tuesday’s edition of The News includes an article by Farrukh Saleem that gives some very interesting statistics about drone strikes. The author takes careful consideration of the history of terrorist violence till date and compares to the violence from drone strikes. While the author does not claim that drone strikes are justified or not justified, he does provide careful research that counters many of the myths and assumptions that dominate debate on this controversial topic.
Despite the facts and figures appearing on page 2, the editorial writers for The News on page 7 repeat the disproven claim that drones kill more innocents than militants. Data collected and made publicly available by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann’s drones database at the New America Foundation shows that drone attacks kill significantly more militants. This view was also recently given in a public briefing by General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood. Additionally, a recent article by Omar Waraich recounts a discussion among top military officers who also contend that the drones have some use.
For example, on March 23rd, Gen. Kayani played host to a clutch of senior retired generals and, amid the tea and collegial bonhomie, the conversation casually turned to Kayani’s statement a week earlier. Some of the visitors wondered why he had adopted such a sharp tone, describing the March 17 attack as an “unjustified and intolerable” violation of human rights. “These drones do have some use,” one of the retired generals said, according to someone present. “Yes, they do have a use,” Gen. Kayani was heard to reply.
Therefore is should be considered that the issue is more complex than is often allowed in media discussion.
Here it should also be noted that Farrukh Saleem’s article appears only in the English language newspaper of Jang Group, but not the media group’s Urdu language daily Jang. Though The News should be praised for including Farrukh Saleem’s article as it provides important context that is not often included in the discussion, we would still be justified in asking why certain statistics only appear in English media but are not published in Urdu media also.
Public opinion on issues such as drone strikes influence the core of national priorities and the way that leaders address them. In a democracy, where the people are able to influence their leaders, it is essential that the people have full information so that they can make decisions based on facts. Just as it is wrong for media to promote incorrect facts, also it is wrong for media to promote different facts for different groups in society leading to misunderstandings and divisions.
Issues such as drones should be covered objectively by news reports and not with a specific agenda. This includes making sure that whether an individual is reading English news or Urdu news, both are getting the same facts on important issues. Sadly, with the case of drones, it appears that is not properly happening.