Posts Tagged ‘priorities’

Danger of media fracturing

Monday, June 18th, 2012

One issue that we have tried to highlight over the years has been that journalists and media groups have a significant power to shape public opinion through choosing what stories to highlight and which to ignore. We have also discussed in depth how this can result in confusion and fracturing among the masses. In today’s Dawn, Huma Yusuf explains how the effect of this social fracturing in her piece, ‘Overlooked News‘.

Despite the farcical nature of it all, attempts by anchors to clear their names and undermine competitors overshadowed news that Abdul Sattar Edhi is at risk of being abducted by the Taliban in exchange for either a hefty ransom or the release of imprisoned militants, and has thus been provided a 24-hour security detail. (The Taliban have denied any such designs.)

The reality of Pakistan’s most venerable humanitarian needing protection from its most brutal militant group is more sobering than the endlessly televised reiteration of the fact that corruption is rife in every institution and sector, even among those meant to serve as arbiters and watchdogs.

Incidentally, news about the threat against Edhi was not the only overlooked reminder of the other profound challenges facing Pakistan: on Saturday, six people were killed in a bomb attack in Khyber Agency; earlier last week in the same region, three members of the Zakakhel tribe were killed in a car bomb attack.

In South Waziristan, the Pakistani Taliban warned NGO workers that they would be treated as criminals if they kept up their activities and pressurised local residents to leave their homes. In Tirah Valley, the Taliban took control of all Kukikhel areas, consigning members of the tribe to refugee camps. In Kohat, a Pakistan Army soldier was shot dead.

Overlooking this news has two effects. One is that it gives the impression that such events are not important or are ‘normal’ and therefore acceptable. Another is the point of Huma Yusuf’s piece which is that “as journalists, judges and politicians try to justify their dealings, they should realise that there is more at stake than their professional reputations”.

 As the pillars of a democratic Pakistani state — the media, judiciary, civilian government and army — appear increasingly compromised, whether as a result of outright corruption or complicity, the public demand for equity and justice will gather momentum.

A narrative that highlights the venality of the political, judicial and journalistic classes and corroborates demands for justice could compellingly be used to recruit young Pakistanis for all manner of anti-democratic causes, whether Taliban-style militancy or other radical and violent means.

Professionalism and journalistic ethics are about more than the reputations of the journalists themselves. Media is a national institution that not only informs the public but is also seen as a check on public institutions. If the people see the media as corrupt, out of touch, and unreflective of the society they wish to live in, it will cause the people to look elsewhere for information and support in holding public institutions accountable. If media cannot do its job, there are willing replacements waiting on the sidelines. These replacements, however, make no pretense to being fair or balanced.


Why is drone data missing from Daily Jang?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

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.

The News (Jang Group)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.

Is Name Calling Really Worth Journalists Time?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

For someone who is happy to label people as ‘liberal extremist’ or ‘liberal fascist’, Hamid Mir is very sensitive about anyone saying anything about him. On Tuesday, Hamid Mir asked in Express Tribune “Why these attacks against me?” after Khaled Ahmed pointed out the ridiculousness of Hamid Mir using the ‘liberal fascist’ label against other people.

Hamid Mir explains that he used the term because he had seen it used by an American author, Jonah Goldberg.

I would like to invite his attention towards the book Liberal Fascism written by American Journalist Jonah Goldberg, published in 2008. Mr Goldberg wrote the history of liberal fascism from Mussolini to the American Left and declared Hillary Clinton as a liberal fascist. If an American journalist can use the term liberal fascism then the Pakistani media can also make comparisons between religious extremists and liberal-fascists.

While it’s true that this term was used by the American Jonah Goldberg, the facts are a little more complicated. Jonah Goldberg is not a journalist like Hamid Mir or Talat Hussain. Jonah Goldberg is a right-wing political columnist who is a regular guest on Glenn Beck and a commentator on FOX News which he even described as a populist, tabloidy network.

Jonah Goldberg made headlines last fall for calling Islamophobia “a myth” and said that Americans should stop worrying about Muslim sentiments regarding plans to build a New York City mosque. Is this really who Hamid Mir is taking his ideas from?

For the record, here is famous American cultural critic Jon Stewart interviewing Jonah Goldberg about the book that Hamid Mir is such a fan of:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Jonah Goldberg
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

It should be noted here that this term was also discussed recently as the topic of Kamran Shahid’s show Front Line on Express News of 6 February.

As could be expected, Orya Maqbool Jan presented some fairly right-wing views, but nothing particularly noteworthy and overall the entire programme seemed to be an excuse for Kamran Shahid complaining about English-language media not allowing rebuttals – a complaint that is proven meaningless by the very English-language articles by Khaled Ahmed and Hamid Mir which consist of an ongoing debate and rebuttal on the specific issue!

Hamid Mir has been writing about the bogey of ‘liberal fascist’ for a month, and the only definition of what exactly is a ‘liberal fascist’ that anyone seems to be able to come up with is ‘someone who doesn’t agree with me’. Certainly Hamid Mir is entitled to his opinion, but we must ask whether the time and energy of our journalists is best spent having a debate about name-calling while the country struggles with serious issues of economy and security.

Missing the Point

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

By now you have probably heard the story of Asia Bibi who was handed down the death sentence in Nankana district for violation of blasphemy laws. This has created quite a debate in parts of the media – but not the debate you might expect. Actually, most of the discussion has been about whether or not the government should overturn the sentence for Asia, with little discussion of the underlying issues. Saroop Ijaz makes an important observation in today’s Daily Times about the way that media reports often miss the bigger picture of a story.


Media Silence: APCOMS

Friday, November 5th, 2010

This blog has pointed out in the past that often what is not reported in the media is equally as important as what is reported. By promoting certain positions, the media has a great deal of influence on public attitudes – if people constantly hear that the government is corrupt, they will believe it. And these perceptions are important. Even the Transparency International survey is about “perceptions” of corruption, not “proof”. But the other side of the story is that if nobody ever reports an issue, how will authorities be pressurized to see that a problem is solved?

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar brings up an interesting case of media ignoring an issue, and the issue failing to be addressed by the responsible in his column for The News today which looks at why APCOMS continues to issue unaccredited degrees to students.

Students across the country protest various administrative abuses on a daily basis. A cursory survey of major newspapers and TV channels suggests that editors are quite happy to run stories of many such protests. Yet APCOMS has been magically exempt from public scrutiny via the media. Any objective observer would agree that there is no meaningful defence of the APCOMS administration for its refusal to secure PEC accreditation, yet what little has appeared in the media about the affair – and not for lack of trying – makes it appear as if a handful of students have incited unrest for no good reason.

Self-censorship in the media is an old phenomenon in Pakistan. Yet over the past two years there has been a noticeable upsurge in media representations of politics and politicians as inherently suspect and attendant representations of the military and military men as upright and patriotic. The students of APCOMS exercised their right to assemble and protest as a means of protecting their rights. If the media refuses to hold a college run by retired military men to account then it is forfeiting its right to be called free.

This is an excellent point. Journalists experience all types of pressure even in countries with a ‘free’ media. Journalists who write articles that are too critical can lose access to influential people. Journalists that are too critical of the wrong people might receive a phone call in the middle of the night reminding them that they are being watched. Neither of these examples quite fall under the dictionary definition of censorship, but they still qualify as improper pressure from authorities and are roundly condemned.

But self-censorship is also a problem that must be addressed. If a reporter, editor, or publisher refuses to address an issue because he wants to protect someone or because he is sympathetic to their politics, this is also a form of censorship that must be condemned. Obviously, editors must make choices about what is important enough to deserve space on the page or during the TV show. But those decisions should be made based on the public good and the public’s right to information, not the editor’s personal politics or those of his friends.

Aasim has now broken the media silence on this issue. Will any other journalists have the courage to follow?

Is NRO reporting fair and factual?

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Media sings NRO chorusIt is often said that the media has an attention span of about two weeks. Issues come and go from front pages quickly as reporters look for the next big story. This can been seen by the short shelf-life of headlines and analysis about terrorist attacks such as took place in Lahore and Data Darbar. 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 media priorities also.

Let us take the example of NRO, which has made its way back to the headlines after a short nap. This week has seen headlines like On the chopping block? (Express Tribune), PM seeks list of NRO-beneficiary baboos (The Nation), and Will President Zardari’s name be included in NRO list? (The News International).

Many of these articles are filled with speculation and little factual reporting. For example, the article by Ahmed Noorani, “Will President Zardari’s name be included in NRO list?”, is less a news report than an argument for removing the President.

But more than simply being speculation and predictions, the vast majority of news articles and commentaries are based on a premise that the NRO list is accurate. But is it? Judging by some news reports, that is not decided.

An article that appeared in The News yesterday reminds readers that the original NRO list contained many errors.

The original NRO list that was revealed to the media and later submitted to the Supreme Court by the then state minister for law Afzal Sandhu proved to be full of many mistakes. “Some of names were included with malafide intentions in the list by the NAB officials who owed their positions to General Musharraf’s era,” NAB sources said and added the NAB was now defending cases in the courts, but did not have sufficient grounds to defend its actions.

It is worth mentioning here that Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar had to face embarrassment at the hands of some over zealous bureaucrats when his name was put on the exit control list and he had to cancel an official visit to China. Ahmad Mukhtar’s name was also included in the list of NRO beneficiaries but later both the NAB and the Law Ministry admitted that his name was included by mistake.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to US Husain Haqqani’s inclusion in the list is also unique in the sense that the NAB had not filed any reference against him. Investigation agencies never had sufficient basis for prosecution against him, but still his name was included on the basis of an inquiry that was started in 1997. Haqqani was arrested in 1999 on the then accountability czar Saifur Rehman’s orders and kept in detention for more than 70 days.

Haqqani had immediately challenged the inclusion of his name in the list in the Lahore High Court where his writ petition is being heard now. The NAB has admitted in the court that his name was included by mistake by NAB’s legal department.

This should be no surprise, actually. We have already seen acquittals of so-called NRO “beneficiaries” such as Usman Farooqui earlier this year, and the LHC is even asking NAB to show documents explaining why some people were included on the list in the first place.

Despite NAB’s own admission that the NRO list contains inaccuracies and mistakes – even after the national embarrassment caused when Ahmad Mukhtar was refused to leave on an official visit – the media continues to write about the issue as if it were an accepted conclusion that the names included on the list were guilty.

The truth is that the media seems to have a memory problem. This could be because its short attention span makes it forget what it has already reported, or it could be because some reporters are ignoring facts to promote a political agenda. Either way, it is an example of the media repeating past mistakes and not giving proper reporting on an important issue.

Newspaper Accepts Paid Advertisements From Banned Groups

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Daily Nawa-i-WaqtBanned group Jamaat ud Dawa has paid newspapers for advertising space – and the newspapers accepted the offer. This raises further questions around the topic of media priorities that we began discussing last week.

Daily Nawa-i-waqt ran a large paid advertisement signed by Hafiz Saeed for Jamaat ud Dawa that says,

Responsible people and members of JuD, help the flood victims on a preferential basis.

While the advertisement appears to be asking people to give money to help flood victims, it is actually promoting the banned organization. It does this in two ways:

First, the advertisement makes a direct connection between the victims of the flood and the relief efforts of JuD despite the fact that JuD has provided only a marginal amount of support for flood victims, and that ignores the broader mission of the organization which is to spread an extremist version of Islam.

Second, the advertisement suggests that the best way to help flood victims is to give financial contributions to JuD rather than to government efforts or apolitical NGOs operating on the ground. This, despite the fact that such an act is illegal as JuD is a banned organization whose accounts have been frozen, despite their continuing to operate openly. Furthermore, the fact that JuD’s accounts have been frozen raises the question of how the advertisement was paid for – did Nawa-i-Waqt accept cash, or was the advertisement provided ‘pro bono’ or complimentary?

Whatever the situation, it is worth questioning what it means about the priorities of newspapers like Nawa-i-Waqt who will accept advertising from banned organizations.

According to Gillian Dyer, advertising has a direct influence on the editorial environment of a newspaper. (Advertising as communication, Volume 1982, Part 2, p.67)

Advertisers will look for the right editorial environment as well as the right readers when they buy space. From this we might conclude that any criticism of an advertiser’s business activities will be avoided in the editorial sections of newspapers.

A 2008 paper by Kelly E. Campbell titled, Advertiser Influence on News Media: A Literature Review concludes that there editors and journalists are aware of this pressure.

Clearly, editors and journalists perceive there to be advertiser pressure. Given the
amount of research that has examined advertiser influence from the news organization’s
perspective, it would be interesting to examine how advertisers themselves perceive their
role in influencing editorial content.

Gillian Dyer’s book concludes that,

Advertisers play a major part in shaping society’s values, habits and direction. They are also partly responsible for influencing the character and development of the media system…Newspapers and magazines are increasingly forced into creating the right ‘editorial environment’ for advertisers, and in addition we can see a growing polarization between popular and quality newspapers.

With this in mind, we must ask what the act of accepting advertising by a banned organization says about the priorities and editorial stance of Nawa-i-Waqt. If the newspaper accepted payment for the advertisement, how has that affected their stance on organizations operating illegally in the country? If they provided the advertisement without charge, are they then demonstrating their support for the illegal organization?

Already some reporters have pointed to news media providing PR for banned groups. Is this yet another example? And what does that tell us about what the agenda of these newspapers?

Research shows that advertising has an influence on reporting and editorial positions. Typically, this may be a subtle effect such as not wanting to write too much about a corporate scandal if the company is a large advertiser. When it comes to banned organization like JuD, though, real questions emerge about what the newspaper’s priorities are and whether the advertising accepted is having some influence on the editorial positions and reporting in the newspaper.

Media Priorities

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

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?

Pakistani Media's Misplaced Priorities

Friday, April 9th, 2010
News media making morning headlines

News media making morning headlines

History was made in Pakistan this week when traditionally bitter rivals put aside their differences and concentrated on what they had in common, putting their personal ambition second to a greater good. Obviously, I am talking about the Shoaib-Sania wedding! What else could have possibly been worth reporting this week?

All this is a joke, of course, but it’s a joke that is meant to bring attention to a very serious issue – Are today’s journalists are doing their job and providing the in-depth reporting that the people need in order to make decisions for themselves? Or has our news media become more interested in sparkle and entertainment than hard-hitting news stories?

Today’s issue of Dawn includes an editorial that asks if the media is failing to uphold proper ethics when it concentrates so much time on a story like Shoaib-Sania marriage.

Media organisations are businesses of course but the ethos of journalism demands that ethics must not be sacrificed at the altar of the bottom line. Good taste also comes into it, though that is a more subjective issue. But consider this: in a country racked by militancy and terrorism, should a celebrity marriage dominate the news on a day when dozens are killed in suicide attacks? Should gossip about what is at best a footnote in the day’s events be deemed more important than the serious socio-political problems facing the country? News involves information, not sordid entertainment, and the line differentiating the two must be redrawn if the industry is to retain its integrity. It is not a news network’s job to titillate its audience or provide the kind of catharsis offered by film or channels dedicated to entertainment.

Dawn is not the only outlet to notice this problem. A recent post on the website suggests that the Pakistani news media is ‘bankrupt.’

You probably think that currently the Pakistani journalists are busy discussing and analysing the proposed amendments to the Constitution, or reporting on the first big conference of the landless farmers of Pakistan in which the intellectuals and experts expressed their opinions on the plight of farmers and their apprehensions and suggested solutions. Right? Wrong!

For Pakistani media, these affairs are less important than the Shoaib-Sania wedding. Like the Indian media, its Pakistani counterpart, particularly the Urdu and Punjabi media also considers the debates raging on the wedding more important than any other issue.

It seems that the Pakistani electronic media does not have any other topic since the day the Shoaib-Sania marriage was announced. A renowned Urdu journalist of India who regularly writes for Pakistani newspapers, recently sent a detailed report of the 9-hour long grilling of the chief minister of Gujarat by the SIT but to his surprise, he got a message which said,: “What have you sent? Please send something about the controversy involving Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza. That is the most interesting news here.” It shows that the Pakistani media has no interest in the fact that for the first time in the history of democratic countries, after the Gujarat riots of 2002 the struggles of an NGO and a wronged widow bore fruit and the chief minister of a state had to be present before an investigative team appointed by the Supreme Court and face questioning for nine long hours.

To the Pakistanis, the news was not ‘interesting’. I also got a phone call from a Pakistani TV channel asking if we had a correspondent in Hyderabad and if so, his phone number should be provided to them. On telling them that we did not have a special correspondent in Hyderabad, he asked for the telephone numbers of the Urdu dailies published from there. We helped them with whatever numbers we had but at the same time, out of curiosity, we asked them why they needed the numbers? Was it because they wanted to know about the communal riots which had engulfed the city where the last Friday prayers were offered under police protection.?

The reply was, “No, sir, forget that. Shoaib Malik has arrived at Sania Mirza’s house in Hyderabad and we want to show a live telecast of the developments there?” I thought that the Pakistani media had become so bankrupt. We agree that the wedding of Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik is news of public interest because both are star players of their respective countries and sports-lovers are familiar with their names.

But is this marriage more important than the amendments to the Pakistani Constitution under which the entire President’s powers are going to be transferred to the Prime Minister? Is this marriage more important than the problems of the poor landless farmers of Pakistan? Are the wedding celebrations of Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik more important than the massacre of thousands of men and the rape of dozens of women?

It seems that the journalists have forgotten their professional and moral duties altogether. Wisdom has surrendered before moolah. The state of the Indian media is no different. Though people do not want to watch and read only news but want all kind of spicy stuff but that does not mean that the journalists should forget that their first duty is to keep the readers and the viewers abreast of the life and the happenings scattered around them. But regretfully all this has become a thing of the past.

There is very much a place for something sweet and spicy, just as there is always a place for entertainment. I have long been a fan of cinema, and will continue to be such. But that doesn’t mean that I want to replace news reporting with dancers and playback singers. Just because I enjoy a jilebi now and again, I will not stop eating rice and only eat jilebis. If I were to do this, my body would not get the nutrients it needs to survive.

Similarly, when our ‘news’ media becomes fixated on sweet and spicy snacks, it sometimes forgets that our brains need some facts and information about the world and society around us so that our minds stay healthy and able to properly analyze information and make proper decisions.

Journalists have a responsibility to truthfully and neutrally report the facts to the people, and news media organizations have a responsibility to support and encourage journalists in their mission. A jilebi now and then is a pleasant treat, but we must make sure that our priorities in order and that we are providing the mental nutrition we need to survive.