Pakistan’s opinion onslaught

BY Themrise Khan| IN Media Practice | 04/08/2010
English newspapers in Pakistan are now divided into two prominent sections. There is ‘news of the day’ and then there is ‘my’ news of the day. It’s all about personal opinion. And on television it is self-obsessed histrionics.
THEMRISE KHAN’s blogposts on the media in ‘Dawn’. Image courtesy,~Dawn~.

The Opinion Onslaught

BY GUEST ON 08 4TH, 2010



Like many of my kind, I am unfortunately part of that limited and often thoughtless breed of English-speaking Pakistanis, who pride themselves on their outspokenness and instinctive abilities, but who are limited by the inability to step beyond the confines of their own opinions, carefully formed within their own worlds.


For the last few years the weaknesses of the electronic media have continued to be debated widely. But the English press on the other hand, has never been criticised for anything other than its ‘English-ness’ i.e., it targets only a fraction of the total literate population of the country and caters mostly to a niche urban audience.


That’s not so much of a problem. English has and will always be a part of South Asian intellect. It serves a purpose by creating a diversity in readership, reaching an international audience and frankly, its no crime to speak, read and write in English, in the press or otherwise.


The concerns lie more with who is writing what in the English press.


With the advent of the electronic media boom almost a decade ago, anyone with even a hint of past media exposure became either a broadcast journalist or a media expert overnight. But this is common knowledge and we continue to love to hate the Pakistani electronic media. But it seems that the English press is beginning to follow a similar path.


English newspapers in Pakistan are now divided into two prominent sections. There is ‘news of the day’ and then there is ‘my’ news of the day. It’s all about personal opinion, about who writes the piece rather than what’ written in the piece.


It’s an accepted fact that everyone has and is entitled to their own opinion, and that such opinion is meant to generate debates, ideas and provide a voice to those who want to speak. But how much of this opinion actually contributes to worthwhile, constructive debate that ultimately leads to some change, somewhere down the line? What’ more, how is it intellectually possible to churn out an opinion (or analysis as many now like to call it) about a different topic, in a different profession, in an altogether different geographical location, every single week, if not everyday, by mostly the same person(s)? Pitching oneself as an expert analyst on political developments, women’ rights, judicial oversights, international affairs and militant terrorism, to fill daily print space, would become a trite confusing for any well-intentioned scribe, one would think. Not to mention pieces on ‘that I think is wrong (or right) about Pakistan.’ Call it old fashioned but would it not make more sense to spend some time doing research, getting the facts right and then forming an opinion? But by then, the opiniiton probably wouldn’ be newsworthy by then would it?


The discovery of new media, primarily blogging and social networking through Facebook and Twitter among others, has added another flawed dimension to the personalisation of news. It’s all very well to provide the youth (and others) with a medium through which to vent and express, but blogging seems to have become the ultimate tool of self-gratification and self-glorification, rather than a medium for social change. It’s now simply another alternative to breaking news (and ‘I’ broke that news first) on the internet. This is startling, as greater ‘voice’ which is encouraged by such new media, is meant to be a catalyst for social change.  But if the ‘voices’ are so self-absorbed that they present only a personal worldview (egged on by over-zealous supporters launching incessant praise in the comment section), then the change can only be limited.


But no matter how much you promote free speech or freedom of expression, many of these musings, neither in the press nor on the internet, do not reflect mass public opinion. And maybe they aren’ supposed to. But one needs to think, how much can a single individual’ interpretations of a singular event, be transformed into popular opinion, given the limited circulation of English newspapers among both the masses and the bureaucracy, let alone usage of the internet?  Many of these pieces are in essence, a personal opinion transformed into an analysis. And there is far too much of it out there in the English press, dominated by far too few.


This is quite disparaging, with the absence of alternative publications, journals and magazines, newspapers remain the key source of information for most in the urban niche.


It is a valid argument that it is a collection of exactly such personal opinions that create a basis for wider analysis and debate. But analyses requires empirical evidence, as well as intellectual rigour. Instead, many pieces are dominated by a growing trend of those who think they have a lot to say, but in actuality, don’ have very much to say at all. The number of times your name appears in print, your face appears on television, or your online blog is visited, doesn’t constitute public opinion at large. Instead, it detracts those who actually have something concrete to present about an issue, to considering it trivial because it has been commented on endlessly in only the past few days, diluting the entire crux of the argument.


This is not to place a blanket criticism on everyone and every opinion. There are several experienced and seasoned intellectuals, actual writers and journalists with decades of firsthand experience and whose thoughts and ideas are encouraging and inspiring. And personal opinions are after all, a by-product of intellectual thought. But by and large, the English press relies on younger, more inexperienced individuals, who still need to understand the difference between informed analysis and opinion and who need to pay closer attention to balancing the two when making the final choice for the next days print run.


And that is my opinion.



                                *              *              *        


Is Anyone Listening?

By Guest on 07 31st, 2010 | Comments (23)



There have been endless debates about corrupt politicians, weak leadership and a failing economy in the national media. Some of which leads to action, most of it does not. But all of it is mostly heard ??" good, bad and ugly. Not just because we witness and face it in our daily lives, but also because it is pointed out ad nauseam by the media. However, when it comes to the media itself, that’s a different story.


It seems that with all the criticism leveled against the electronic media in Pakistan over the last few years, it’s falling on deaf ears. Yet another case in point was the blatantly callous coverage of the Airblue plane crash in Islamabad on July 28. While one can describe for pages on end the morbid, insensitive and self-obsessed histrionics of every channel, once again, misinformation topped the list.


The outpouring of anger against such reckless and damaging coverage has been overwhelming. Most of this has been vented on online blogs, both on national newspapers, as well as private blogs. Angered writers and readers have been buzzing about the lack of responsibility of the electronic media, to the extent that many are calling for an end to the farce that has now become the Pakistani electronic media.  One blogger put it very eloquently: "Just the way you wouldn’t hand weapons to an untrained army, you wouldn’t hand cameras and a press pass to untrained media representatives."


And there are several hundred more comments to supplement such outrage, only 48 hours after the unfortunate disaster. But the question arises, is anyone in the media listening?


Just the way the media is meant to be a powerful tool for social change, so is the voice of the masses. And in Pakistan’s history, the people’s voice unfortunately, has never been heard. Granted it is probably only a fraction of the literate and internet-inclined who write on blogs, but it is not just the English-speaking elite who form the readership. Many are students from public sector institutions and those belonging to middle to low-level income groups and they too, are angry. It is clear from broadcasts that the electronic media shies away from anyone who chooses to criticise them on their own medium, so blogging is pretty much all there is to go on. But again, the question arises, are those in the media paying any attention to what their viewers are saying about them?


Doesn’t seem so, as reporters and correspondents continue to challenge viewers patience with their smug, self-righteous attitudes, and also continue to wage a power struggle both within their networks and the state, since being a broadcast journalist is now akin to being a celebrity. While they can stage protests in front of the Lahore High Court against regulation to curb their powers, they can at the same time openly flaunt the laws of decency and human conduct while informing the public. An unfortunate dichotomy if there was one.


Change takes time, especially in a country like ours that is averse to sudden shifts in comfort zones. But it seems that change in the media will be excruciatingly slow, if at all. Because the reality is, that the electronic media in Pakistan was established, not as a neutral organ of "voice" and access to information for the people, but as a competitive business for profit, just like the corporate sector. Its about ratings, viewership and being there first, or even not being there at all, but behaving as you were. And when you have that for a foundation, there isn’t much hope for change at all.


Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi who occasionally dares to venture into the Pakistani media.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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