Pakistan’s Urdu media: volatile and severe

IN Media Monitoring | 25/11/2005
Indo-Pak media perspectives on terror, Part II. Unlike Pakistan`s English newspapers, different media standards seemed to apply to the Urdu press which caters to a far larger, mass circulation.

 In 2005 the Hoot has done a fresh round of Indo-Pak media monitoring. This is the final part of an analytic series on the  comparative coverage of the same events in India and Pakistan in July. A Panos funded project on the Hoot.

Mannika Chopra 

Evidently sections of the Urdu press in Pakistan had its hands more than full as it reported on and reacted to the events of July. In the two news dailies that were being monitored, Jang and Jasarat, both located in Karachi, coverage veered from debate to extended rants, mostly against a perceived Islamphobic West and a pushover General.  

Unlike Pakistan¿s English newspapers different media standards seemed to apply in the Urdu press which caters to a far larger, mass circulation. The tone on its opinion pages appeared to be argumentative, angry and played up the struggles that Muslims as a community were facing after 9/11, President George Bush¿s war on terror and global reactions to July¿s events. The comment pages tended to sound more like intemperate activist bulletins demonizing the enemy in religious terms, urging readers to take positions, rather being a neutral  space to reflect various voices. In an extended edit page article Rasheed Patel wrote: " …as a result these countries treat us badly, while travelling to those countries there are innumerable instances if humiliation during immigration …such a hype is being created in the media that every Muslim will be forced to leave Britain… such an atmosphere is being created that it seems every Pakistani is carrying a bomb in his lap …After the downfall of communism, western society is eyeing Islam as the new enemy. They are accusing the Islamic Jihadi forces of implementing a New World Order." (¿British campaign against Islam and Pakistanis/Jang/ July 22). 

Even Urdu papers belonging to the same group, (Jang is the sister paper of The News), revealed a lack of control.  Often Jang sounded more emotional, trying to make sense of reasons for the much globally reviled Jihadi mission. "…why has the responsibility of this terrorist act has been imposed on a group of Jihadis of Al-Qaeda and a split of hatred been created between Muslims and the rest of the world." (¿How can global terrorism be eliminated?¿/Peer Fazal Haque/Jang /July 15). The opinion pages predominantly reflected the impact on a beleaguered community. In an edit page piece, Qamruddin Khan wrote that due to global incidence of terror the Muslim Ummah, Ulemmas and scholars were suffering from an inferiority complex. He went onto explain that in order win approbation ¿loyalists¿ within the community would to get rewards by putting the blame on any Muslims organisation or Muslim terrorists. (¿London blasts and requirements of investigation¿/Jang/ July 17) Writings on the Muslim backlash and its effect on the psyche of the second generation Muslim settled in the UK sounded charged. (¿In a mosque in London¿/Jang/July 14.) Even though the same point was made extensively by Pakistani English newspapers, (¿Now in London skin colour matters¿ / Dipankar de Sarkar/ opinion page/ The News /July 13 ¿Backlash against Muslims/The Daily Times/July 12) in Urdu  comments sounded more hysterical and biased, potentially raising charges of balance and sensational tabloidism. Having said there were areas where a restrained commonality was apparent in both Pakistan¿s Urdu and English print media: The forbearance showed by British society in the aftermath of the London blasts and the need for the Pakistani establishment to root out extremism.  

Chronologically, Jang on its news pages covered the attack on Ayodhya factually using a report sent by APP, the Associated Press of Pakistan. (¿Six assailants killed in disputed Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Pakistan condemned¿/ July 6).  It concluded by stating that the VHP leader Praveen Togadia had said that the attack was President Musharraf¿s way of disturbing peace and harmony of the country. It also added that the Shiv Sena in Mumbai blamed Pakistan for the attack and it had retaliated by burning a Pakistani flag during a protest demonstration.  

Covering the London blasts, Jasarat, too, reported without too much clamour though it did get some facts wrong perhaps to keep to a deadline. (¿Explosion rocks London, 70 killed, normal life paralysed,¿/July 8). The linkage of the blasts to Britain¿s Iraq policy was brought out clearly by Hamid Mir. (¿How safe can London Be?¿/Jang/ July 11). Ironically, began Mir, on July 5 England refused to play a cricket test match in Karachi citing security concerns. Two days later London¿s calm was shattered by the serial bomb blasts. Had a visiting Australian cricket team refused to play, said the columnist, it would have been a great victory to the terrorist.  

Osama Bin Laden¿s justification of targeting innocent civilians, said Mir, was he believed they had voted in both Bush and Tony Blair for fresh terms. The London blasts, said Mir, had nothing to do with religion as much as with political disputes. This could be sorted out by the West dialoging with the Al-Qaeda. 

Trying to explain the London blasts, Masood Ashar writing on opinion pages (¿In a mosque in London/Jang/ July 14) quoted extensively from a report in a weekly, The Observer. The extracts focused on Muslim youth and how their dislike of Prime Minister Blair¿s Middle East policy did not automatically translate to extreme reactions. 

Unlike the English papers, some comments in Urdu dailies lacked a civil tone. Jasarat¿s edit page was severe in its condemnation of General Pervez Musharraf, his definition of terrorism and his tendency to give in to the US and India  (¿Bird of extremism¿/July 18). The author graphically proved the point that Musharraf thought himself as omnipotent. If the General were to, said Shahnaz Farooqui somewhat facetiously, place his shoe laces on one side of the weighing scale and the entire nation on the other, the author believed that the scales would be tilted in favour of the laces, since the army man considered himself to be the sole repository of Pakistan¿s Constitution, Parliament, democracy and judiciary. 

Other commentators saw a conspiracy in the reactions of the West to the blasts.  Remarking on the attacks on mosques in London and Auckland, New Zealand after 7/7 Jang emphasized that had the blasts been the results of Christian or Jewish extremist elements, their places of worship would not have been damaged. Nor would such attacks be described as acts of ¿Christian terrorists¿. (¿London blasts and requirements of investigation¿/July 17). 

More significantly, the columnist referred for the need of an ¿impartial investigation¿ to look into the suppression of news that the Israeli embassy in London had prior information of the blasts. Repeatedly the characterization of Muslims, terrorists and Islam under as one entity was abhorred.  Khursheed Nadeem said that the discussion on terrorism and Muslims which had been gaining ground since 9/11 had once again found greater currency. In the aftermath of the bomb opinions bristled with anti-American sentiment. Intellectual arguments on the difference between ¿others¿ and ¿own¿ appeared. Those ¿victims of blasts¿ in America, London, Nairobi were designated ¿own by America ¿while those who ¿suffered from terrorist activity¿ in Palestine, Afghanistan were distanced as ¿others¿. (Jang/July 18). 

Typically, the reportage on violence in Kashmir was loaded. A glaring difference between the English and Urdu papers was evident with reference to deaths in the Valley. While the death of any Kashmiri, whether he was a infiltrator, militant or common man, was described as ¿being martyred¿; all Indians soldiers or even  labour caught in a cross fire --were merely ¿killed¿ (¿24 Kashmiris martyred in acts of Indian state terrorism¿/ Jang/July 23).  

There were frequent comments against the President who was seen as planting himself firmly on the road to punishment not only in this life but in the hereafter as well. In an edit  (¿Who is the Extremist?/ Jasarat/July 23) pointed out that General Pervez Musharraf was the country¿s leading extremist. Offering an explanation, it argued, the world over, Muslims hated Bush and Blair for their aggressive war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet the Pakistani president was supporting them. The edit was particularly critical of the official action taken against Friday Special, a sister publication of Jasarat, for ¿propagating religious hatred. The edit felt that publications like Friday Special were being targeted because they had declared a jihad against military dictatorship.  

The dailies scanned may not have presented a high-quality package of news and analysis but their approach was robust and at times defensive. To that end with their extensive readership they succeeded in engaging their readers and creating an impact. 

Extracts from Jang and Jasarat 

After (America) withdraws its troops from Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda should be invited for talks. If it rejects this invitation, it will harm itself. A change in the attitude of Muslims across the world including European Muslims towards Europe and America is possible and the insanity and hatred can change into friendship. But there is the need to take a bold and courageous step for this change to occur. There is a need to extend a formal invitation to the Al Qaeda. If not the series of blasts that killed innocent people will never stop.

--- Hamid Mir / ¿How can London be safe?¿

Jang/edit page/July 11 

There are 16 lakhs Muslims in Britain. Each and every person has a different identity, different opinions and different likings. But there¿s a fear amongst them that people generally have a wrong impression of them since they do not know them. And this is already happening. (After the blasts) the British Muslim Council has received 30,000 hate emails in one day. When Saira bin Bashir sent an email to her British friend. She received a reply from her (friend): "Those who are not narrow minded know that there a majority of Muslims are not narrow minded." But Saira says that her friend does not know the reality. She won¿t have to face people whose eyes are filled with hatred or meet people wanting to abuse her.

---Masood Ashar/ ¿In a mosque in London¿

Jang/edit page/July14  

Terrorist activities in London have rocked the world. However, the forebearance of Britons at this painful hour is worth mentioning… following the London blasts the immediate reaction of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair showed his statesmanship. Later his statement on BBC showed he wanted to get to the bottom of the issue. "If terrorists are hell bent on blowing up buses and trains it cannot be prevented despite the tightest security in the world. Fool proof security will never be enough to counter such activities; it is necessary to root out the causes of terrorism." 

---Nafis Sadiqi/ ¿Explore the roots of terrorism¿

Jang/edit page/15 July  

Without setting any definition of extremism, General Pervez Musharraf is making a hue and cry. Addressing leading police personnel in Isambabad he directed them to eliminate extremism by December. Fortunately none of them dared to raise a question about the deadline or else they would have asked what was wrong with October-November or January-February deadline? In our language there is a term ¿numberi¿ and now there will be a new term ¿Decemberi¿….

---Shanawaz Farooqui/ ¿Bird of extremism¿

Jasarat/edit page/18 July 

There is a plan to target Muslims across the world soon after the destruction of the twin towers in September which is considered to be the Pearl Harbour of modern times. Now it¿s crystal clear that the US objective is not terrorism, dictatorship or weapons of mass destruction but only Muslims. This was exposed by the misbehavior of the American soldiers against the prisoners of Abu Gharib and Guantanomo Bay. Since the basic intention of the Americans is to target Muslims they have reacted very fast. We don¿t really know who¿s behind the London blasts and what their goals are. But there is a similarity between the 9/11 and 7/7 incidents. The west, particularly the US and its first ally the British, are taking advantage from these two incidents by blaming Muslims immediately and they are making them suffer.

---- Mauzzaffar Ejaz/ ¿London blasts: Who will benefit?¿

Jasarat/ edit page/July 23  

Addressing the nation on Thursday night, General Pervez Musharaff …urged people to launch a jihad against extremist elements that are harming Pakistan. In the process he reminded the nation that, that he was a Syed and that he had the right to visit the Holy Ka¿aba and the Prophet¿s shrine. So no one should doubt his identity as a Muslim. He said stringent measures would be taken against those newspapers, magazines and journals publishing malicious literature. He also directed religious institutions to ensure registration by December 31. But if all these points are examined it will not be incorrect to say that actually the General is the biggest extremist in this country because for the last six years he has assumed full powers … The Constitution is under his whims and wishes; the Parliament is under his thumb. Every word he utters is law. Musharraf is a monarch disguised as a General and President.

---¿Extremists, But Who? ¿

Jasarat/editorial/23 July 

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, in his address. "The war against Islamic extremism must be won at any cost." The fact is that Islam is a religion of peace and security. It teaches lessons of forgiveness and tolerance. Jihad is carried out purely for God and taking into account strict conditions. The basic concept of Jihad is to provide humanity safety and liberty. Islam directs without any discrimination to get rid of oppression and tyranny. It welcomes different religious gods and faith with generosity and believes in friendly relations with non Muslims and minorities.  So there is no concept of Islamic extremism.  If Muslims are targeted the situation will make the Muslim world and the West more apprehensive. No Muslim or Muslim rulers are involved in global terrorism and religious extremism anywhere in the world. However the liberty and faith of Muslims is being targeted everywhere from the Babari Mosque to the Dome of the Rock, from Srinagar and Kabul to Baghdad. It is also a matter of record that not one of the world¿s 57 Muslim countries has occupied even 57 kms of a non Muslim county, while entire Muslim countries have been occupied.

----Malik Altaf Hussain/ ¿Prime Minister¿s Tony Blair¿s Address¿

Jang/edit page/July 30 

Translation of articles from Jang and Jasarat: Faiyaz Ahmed

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