Unconscious biases pervade the coverage of Pakistan

IN Media Monitoring | 29/02/2008
It is clear that the over riding trope that the coverage offers is of Pakistan being a failed state and a country in the grip of a civil conflict
ALOKE THAKORE analyses the reports in four Hindi newspapers after the sacking of Chief Justice Choudhary.

The events that led to Pervez Musharraf leaving the military suits for civilian robes started in early 2007 with his stand-off with the judiciary, particularly with the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Ahmed Choudhary, who was later sacked leading to the crises that resulted in the imposition of Martial Law. What follows is an analysis of the reportage in four Hindi newspapers on Pakistan after the sacking of Choudhary. The four newspapers are Punjab Kesari, Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar and Hindustan. The dates covered are from May 7, 2007 to May 20, 2007, a period of  three weeks after the trouble began,  to monitor the coverage when the unrest was at its peak.

 These four newspapers represent the mainstream Hindi press; widely circulated and read papers in the National Capital Region of India. All articles relating to Pakistan in these issues were reviewed for the content. Since the overwhelming majority of the stories were from the wire services, which are mostly transmitted in English, any academic analysis of the reportage would have to compare the original with the translation. The heterogeneity of the agencies and the post facto nature of this review means that the originals were not available. Hence, it was decided to look at only those features that could be taken as a non-translation function of the news desk. Headlines, cutlines or captions and subheads are therefore the key focus areas of this review.

 It should be noted that these three taken together are the most read parts of a newspaper and in the inflection that they provide to the stories, they impart a value judgement to the story. Both in terms of their ability to provide a frame within which meaning about the event or process is conveyed,  and for their inordinately large readership, these three features are felicitous for a review. The newspapers are presented one at a time instead of any synchronous presentation of pieces since the review is not meant for any comparative purposes but to tease out the frames for the meanings they convey. Some of the pieces reviewed do not relate to Pakistan politics but to other stories from the country.

Dainik Bhaskar (May 7, 2007 to May 19, 2007)

The big story on May 7 was the journey of Choudhary from Islamabad to Lahore during which he was greeted all along the route. The headline takes a quote from Choudhary, "The days of authoritarianism are over: Choudhary" (Lad chuke tanashahi ke din: Choudhary). The subhead provides information about the motorcade and the time taken to cover the distance. The photograph with the story is from AFP and shows Choudhary greeting supporters amidst a shower of petals and the cutline has one adjective, jordar (hearty or tumultuous to qualify the reception he received at the rally). Two other stories are more interesting in the inflection they provide to the stories. One is headlined, "Rally is Musharaff¿s, devastated are 50 Hindu families" (Rally Musharaff ki, ujade 50 Hindu parivar) and the other is "Bharatiya music to be preserved in Pak universities" (Pak university me hoga bharatiya sangeet ka sanrankshan). The first story is a wire copy that is based on a news appearing in a Pakistan newspaper of how the police removed 50 Hindu families to enable Musharaff¿s public meeting in Sindh. The story does not mention whether they were temporarily displaced or were their homes demolished or they were asked to leave for security reasons. But the choice of the word "ujade" (to destroy, devastate, uproot), which is also there in the copy is important as it adds to the discourse of persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.

The story on music is unconscious of what constitutes classical music because in common parlance one speaks of Hindustani classical music and Carnatic classicial music, where the word Hindustani does not map to the Indian nation. So juxtaposing Pak and Bhartiya as opposed to saying classical music or shastriya sangeet emphasizes the state with the musical tradition, which does not have any empirical validity.

The newspaper for May 8 had a two deck headline, "Political conditions changing rapidly in Pakistan/Supreme Court stops hearing against Choudhary" (Pak me teji se badal rahe hain rajnitik halat/Supreme court ne lagai Choudhary ke khilaf sunvai par rok). The subhead mentioned that the lawyer for Choudhary called the move an important victory. A box in the story was headlined, "Will emergency be declared?" (lagega aapatkal?). The interesting headline treatment came on May 9, when an exclamation mark was added after, "Now new charges will be brought against Choudhary" (Choudhary par ab naye aarop lagenge!). A subhead took the exclamation forward with, "Many judges in sight!" (kai jajon par hai nazar!). The exclamation imparts to the otherwise straight headline the idea of all that is amiss with the goings on in Pakistan. A box item on that day mentions "Ban on selling CDs in Wazirstan" (Waziristan me cidi kaset ki bikri par rok). The story mentions the Taliban supported terrorists as having made the call in that area. The story is attributed to a news in a Pakistan newspaper. It merits mention that a number of these stories are based on newspaper reports, which points to the way that news gathering is done even by wire service reporters in the country.

Three single column headlines on May 10 provide the diversity of events but the commonality of theme in reportage of Pakistan. "The word ¿kafir¿ banned in Pakistan parliament", (Pak sansad me ¿kafir¿ shabda par pabandi); "Ethics code for media in Pakistan", (Pakistan me media ke liye achar sanhita); and, "Fundamentalists attempt to blow up shops" (Kattarpanthiyon ne kiya dukane udane ka prayas). While these are straight headlines, the content for all three are religion and political chaos. It should be noted that almost all stories from Pakistan are about conflict and chaos and religion. Whether this can be attributed to the kind of wire services feed or the choice made by the subs, it is clear that what makes for news from Pakistan are forces of entropy, of the unravelling of country, regime, civil society.

On May 11, there was a report datelined Islamabad but based on the report of a "reputed organization", Federation of American Scientists it mentions that the nuclear missiles might be directed towards India. The kicker reads, "The unholy intentions of Pakistan uncovered by Federation of American Scientists" (pakistan ke napak iradon ka federation of american scientist ne kiya khulasa). The use of the word "napak", which mean unholy because "pak" means "holy" juxtaposes the invidious nature of the country with the ¿holiness¿ inherent in the name. The kicker echoes the sense of the country about the nefarious nature of Pakistan. Direct reportage could have just mentioned that missiles are pointed towards India, assuming that the study is indeed credible (there are no other sources used in the story), but the labelling of intentions is the inflection that newspapers provide. What is interesting that while the kicker talks of unholy designs, the lead mentions that it is probable that the missiles are so directed (ho sakta hai). The uncertainty in the story becomes certain in the headline and the intentions become obvious in the kicker.

An intriguing feature of some of the stories in Danik Bhaskar was the attribution of the stories to Bhaskar Network and the dateline being Karachi or Islamabad. Whether this was a case of some subs watching the television channels and writing a report or rewriting a story from a Pakistan newspaper or whether there was a reporter or a stringer on the ground does not necessarily become clear in the story. There is a degree of authenticity that is sought to be added by the byline of Bhaskar Network, but it is not buttressed by any name or indication about source. For example, a story headlined, "Ministers advised to keep silent" (mantriyon ko khamosh rahene ki hidayat) mentions Bhaskar Network, but the story in the second graph is attributed to Dawn. So is it a case of translating the copy from Dawn or what is the basis of the story are questions that remain unanswered.

Cases of violence inevitably bring metaphors of fire to the fore. No exceptions here. On May 13 we find, "Karachi ablaze" (karachi dhadhka), on May 14 we have, "Karachi fire becomes more intense, hadtal today" (karachi ki aag aur bhadki, aaj hadtal). A photo feature carried the headline, "Fire is not getting doused" (Nahi bujh rahi aag). The four photographs (one is inset) give the impression of chaos in the country. On May 15 the metaphor changed to sound as the headline said, "Pakistan reverberates with opposition to Musharaff" (Musharaff virodh se gunja pakistan). The metaphor continued to maintain its hold over the subs as they wrote the next day, May 16, "The slogan reverberates in Pak parliament ¿Musharraf is a killer¿" (pak sansad me gunja naara ¿musharaff hatyara hai¿). How these ideas are carried from one day to another can be seen in a photo caption on May 16, which reads, "Now explosion shocks Pakistan" (Ab dhamake ne dahalaya pakistan). The word "ab" or "now" is what continues the narrative of violence in the country. Earlier it was fire and arson and now it is explosion. The continuing theme remains of a country in the grips of fear.

On May 17, the headlines took the story forward with suggestions of an impending civil conflict. The kicker said, "More suicide attacks feared, Benazir¿s return stopped, increased possibilities of sectarian divide in Karachi" (Aur atmaghati hamlon ki ashanka, benazir ki vapasi atki, karachi me jatiya vibhajan ke asar badhe). Another subhead notes, "Situation in Karachi like 1947" (Karachi me 1947 jaise haalaat). The story does not provide any information about how the situation of violence in Karachi is similar to that of 1947 when it was largely an inter-religious violence. This would be a case of sectarian violence or an ethnic violence based on linguistic and racial ethnicity rather than any religious belonging. But just the mention of 1947 serves an indexical function of informing the reader of the extent of chaos and destruction since the 1947 violence remains a benchmark of disruption and violence.

In the midst of all this is a story on the Pakistan government asking for the removal of military from Kashmir. The headline on May 18 reads, "Kasuri says, remove military from Kashmir/will help improve the situation in the valley" (Kasuri ne kaha, kashmir se sena hatai jaye/ghati ke haalaat sudharne me milegi madad). As with all the stories mentioned above, this too is a wire services story.

There were two bylined stories on Pakistan. One by Aarti R. Jerath from New Delhi about how Pakistan is putting hurdles on the nuclear deal between India and the US, and the other by Aamir Mir from Lahore on the difficulties facing Musharaff because of the violent support of Mohajirs. Jerath¿s piece is based on information from the Indian government about how the lobbyists for Pakistan have tried to influence the US lawmakers  on the nuclear deal. The thrust of this piece is that these lobbyists have circulated information about India¿s close relations, including military, with Iran to throw a spanner in the works. Mir¿s piece is an analysis of the role of the Mohajir party in supporting Musharaff who is a fellow Mohajir and how the violence led by the party has worried the Punjabi majority army, which in turn could ask Musharaff to leave the army chief¿s office. The analysis details  Musharaff¿s predicament as an Urdu-speaking Mohajir.

Other than these two pieces there were two opinion pieces. One by Benazir Bhutto on May 18 and the other by a Pakistani journalist, Javed Naqvi, on May 14. Both these represent analysis of the situation and as is wont with opinion pieces share the possibilities for the future.

It is the edit piece on May 14 with its alliterative headline, "General-Justice confrontation singes Karachi" (general-justice jang me jala karachi) that shares the position that come to the reader as hints in the headlines, cutlines and subheads. Democracy has been alive in Pakistan in the hearts of the people despite the long periods of military rule. Choudhary¿s opposition to Musharaff is galvanizing these forces and though it may not mean either a return to democracy, but the sacked chief justice might become a fulcrum around whom democratic forces may coalesce. It also remarks about the closure of television channels and notes that suppression of expression may be fatal to the dictatorial regime.

While there are some stray cases of careless use of language and presuppositions, largely the reportage based on wire services is straight forward. What is clear is that democracy is held up as the standard and the suppressions are the subject of anger or derision. From the mocking exclamation to the use of dictator, it is clear that if at all there is a villain in these pieces it is Musharaff and the hero is Chaudhary.

Punjab Kesari (May 6 to May 20)

On May 6 a short two column was headlined, "Advice to control the role of Pak military", (pak sena ki bhumika ko niyantrit karne ka sujhav). The language of the headline of the report on Hindus being removed for Musharaff¿s rally was written in a matter of fact manner and was tucked away as the last item in column one. The May 7 report was headlined, "50 Hindu families removed for Musharaff¿s rally: Report", (Musharaff ki rally ke liye 50 Hindu parivaron ko hataaya gaya: report). Contrast the word "hataya" here with the word "ujade" in Dainik Bhaskar. It is here we see the importance of lexical choices and in this case when translating a piece from English to Hindi. Remove is muted compared to devastated.

On May 7 there was a report on Chaudhary¿s journey from Islamabad to Lahore. The headline read, "Pakistan tense because of Chaudhary¿s Lahore journey", (Justice Chaudhary ki lahore yatra se pakistan me sargarmi badhi). The photograph with the story shows a large turnout of people and the sacked judge responding to their cheers. On May 8 there was a wire service copy about the possibility of emergency being imposed. The headlines was matter of fact, "Chances of emergency being imposed in Pakistan", (Pak me aapaatkaal laagu hone ke aasar). A story set within this story had a quote as a headline, "No secret understanding on Kashmir: Kasuri", (Kashmir par koi gupt samjhauta nahin: kasuri). One can see in these headlines, based as the stories are on wire copy, of sticking to the simple facts of the case and in this case there is an eschewing of any adjectives or adverbs. The only issue is whether martial law is being translated as emergency or does the original copy indeed talk about emergency and not about military rule. A small single column notes the killing of two Shia religious teachers. The AFP story is headlined, "Two Shia religious leaders killed in Multan", (Multan me do dharmaguruon ki hatya).

The language of emergency comes back on May 13, but this time the subhead uses the word emergency. The page one headline reads, "Bloody battle in Karachi: 35 dead, curfew imposed/Condition out of control in Pakistan:Chances of emergency:General and Justice in a face-off", (Karachi me khuni jang: 35 mare, karfyu laagu/pakistan me haalaat bekabu:emergency ke aasar:general aur justice aamne-saamne). The photograph that goes with the story shows five dead men on the road beside a car with the caption, "Bodies of those who died in the terrible fight between supporters of sacked judge Iftkhar Choudhary and opposition workers in Karachi", (Karachi me Pakistan ke nilambit jaj iftikhar chaudhary samarthakon aur vipakshi karyakartaon ke madhya huye bhishan sangharsha me maare gaye logo ke shav). A pull quote element in the story has the following: Entire Pakistan¿s peace robbed by the confrontation between Justice Chaudhary and the supporters of General Pervez Musharaff and political upheaval (Justice chaudhary aur general parvez musharaff ke samarthakon ki bhidant se pure pakistan ka amanchain luta aur raknitik uthal-puthal). Unlike other passages where there is an implication of the values of democracy, here the violence is articulated from the point of view of the people who seem to be suffering at the hands of this political struggle between a judge and a military ruler.

The language of burning makes it way on May 14 with the headline, "Karachi is burning: Strike in all of Pakistan", (sulag raha hai karachi: aaj pure pakistan me hadtal). Again the pull quote articulates this as a fight between the judge and the general. "Even today the police had to fire at protesters in the battle between judge and general in which there are reports of three dying: tension continues in all of karachi", (Justice banam general yudh me aaj bhi pradarshankariyon par pulis ko firing karni padi jisme teen logon ke maare jaane ki khabar hai: pure karachi me tanaav barkarar hai). The possibility of an ethnic strife is mentioned in the kicker, "Fears of a return of period of ethnic violence, dead toll reaches 40", (Jaatiya hinsa ka daur phir lautne ki ashanka, mritak sankhya 40 huyi).

The last of the stories was on May 20 on the kidnapping of four policemen by the people holed up in Lal Masjid in Islamabad. The headline reads, "Lal Masjid partymen kidnap four policemen" (lal masjid ke dal ne char puliskarmiyon ka apaharan kiya). This boxed news item mentions that those in Lal Masjid whose activities are along the lines of Taliban have kidnapped four policemen for allegedly working as spies for the government.

Dainik Jagran (May 6 to May 20)

The page one lead on May 6 was a story headlines, "No faith on Pak¿s promise" (Pak ke vadon par bharosa nahin). The subhead is quote from the Indian defence minister, A. K Anthony, "No haste on Siachen" (Siachen par jaldbaazi nahin). The intriguing element in the story is how the words of the minister who says that Pakistan has to accept our military presence in Siachen not only on the map but also on the ground (Pakistan ko siachen me hamari sena ki maujudgi ko nakshe par hi nahin balki jameen par bhi pramaanikta deni hogi) are transformed to the idea that the there is no faith in Pakistan¿s promise. The seeking of evidence on the ground becomes lack of trust in the words that emanate from Pakistan. The story is written by a correspondent.

Another story on the same day was headlined, "Talibani proclamation issued in Pak", (Pak me talibani farman jari). Bullet points were used as a highlighting element in the story with two points, which noted that tribals had been asked to keep beards and cassette players and mobile sets were broken. This wire copy notes the lawlessness in the tribal areas of NWFP and speaks about the different things that have been declared un-Islamic by fundamentalists in the region. Another agency report on the same day is headlined, "Sikh parliamentarian in Pak seeks political asylum in England" (Pak ke sikh sansad ne mangi england me rajnitik sharan). The story written from Islamabad is based on some allegations made in the Pakistan Parliament and does not have any evidence of such asylum being sought. Yet the headline is definitive and declarative. Read in conjunction with the other story about a Talibani proclamation, the headline would add to the notion that the few remaining minorities are feeling unsafe. These two headlines work in tandem to generate such a meaning.

On May 7, an inside page story with a photograph carried the headline, "Days of dictatorship over: Iftkhar" (Tanashahi ke din lade: Iftkhar). The story used to two bullet points to highlight the main elements: Musharaff rattled over the mass support to sacked chief justice and thousands of supporters along with judges welcome him in Lahore. The photograph used is from AFP and shows the sacked chief justice being showered with rose petals. The caption mentions that lawyers welcomed him heartily and put many a garland on him.

On May 11, there were four agency stories. One carried the headline, "Al Qaida¿s influence increases in Pak" (pak me alqaida ka varchasva badha), the other, "A UN office closed in Pak" (Pak me UN ke ek daftar par tala), the third, "Justice Chaudhary¿s lawyer¿s home attacked" (Justice Chaudhary ke vakil ke ghar par hamla) and the last, "Pakistan has 60 nuclear bombs in its arsenal" (Pakistan ke pas sath parmanu bamon ka jakhira). The rhetorical nature of the lead in the last story is worth our attention. It reads, "On the one hand Pakistan is engaged in promising friendship with India, but on the other it is not shying from targetting its missiles at Delhi and other major Indian cities" (Ek taraf to pakistan bharat ke saath dosti ki kasme khane me juta hua hai, lekin dusri or vah dilli sahit pramukh bharatiya shaharon ko lakshya kar missilon ki tainati se bhi baaj nahi aa raha hai). This PTI story is based on a study by Federation of American Scientist, but it would be worth examining whether the PTI story reflected the exact words of the report and whether the translation desk did an accurate job of translating the copy because the story is replete with the word, "danger". The story on Al Qaida in Pakistan also has its share of rhetoric. It begins by saying that whatever may be the claims put forward by Musharaff about the absence of any Al Qaida camps, such words do not make any impact on the Americans. The subhead attributes to the US Secretary of Defence the words that such camps are running with abandon in Pakistan. A story subsumed within this headline also is about four CD shops being bombed. This is from the NWFP.

The lead story on May 13 was headlined, "Chaos in Karachi, 31 dead" (karachi me kohram, 31 mare). The story was about the clashes between pro-Musharaff and pro-Iftkhar supporters. As the subhead noted, "Supporters of general and judge at ¿war¿, 150 hurt in massive firing". The accompanying photograph showed two men who seem to be engaging in arson.

On May 16, there were two stories. One about the suicide bombing in Peshawar that was headlined, "Suicide bombing in Pak, 26 dead" (Pak me atmaghati hamla, 26 mare) and the other about anti-Musharaff forces headlined, "Opponents close ranks against Musharaff" (Musharaff ke khilaf vipakshi huye laamband). The story on Musharaff in its lead said that the opposition parties who are agitated (the translation of the word tilmilaye as agitated does not do justice to the sense of outrage and singeing that this word carries)  over the events in Karachi have come together to ask Musharaff to leave office. The important thing here is that the translation is colloquial and idiomatic, and this is a feature of Dainik Jagran that is worth highlighting. Their use of the language and their transcreative abilities require a more sustained and systematic analysis.

Two stories appeared on May 17. Both political, but one with large scale ramifications, while the other with pointed significance for the Indian reader. The lead story was headlined, "Chaudhary¿s plea should be quashed" (kharij ho chaudhary ki yachika) and was a report on Musharaff¿s lawyers requesting the Pakistan Supreme Court to quash the sacked chief justice¿s plea over his removal. The other was headlined, "Relief for Hindu couple from Pak High Court" (hindu yugal ko pak highcourt se rahat). The story is about a couple who were seeking restoration of their citizenship after staying for five years in India and who had been asked to pay Rs. 50 lakhs for such restoration. The headline in pointing to the High Court granting relief indicates the persecution that a Hindu couple may have faced. The relief presupposes a persecution and with the words Hindu couple, it adds to the picture of persecuted minorities in the country. Recall the Sikh leader headline in a story on May 6.

Out of three stories on May 20, the headline of the lead story on an inside page (the same page also carried the other two stories) is inflected with opinion instead of being reportorial. It reads, "Pak government surrenders to extremists" (pak sarkar kattarpanthiyon ke aage hui natmastak). The story is about the release of four extremists from Lal Masjid in exchange for the release of four policemen who were abducted earlier. The other two stories are about the resolve of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan and about how the Chaudhary-Musharaff face-off has come in the way of trying to resolve the Kashmir problem. The Kashmir story is based on Musharaff¿s interview where he had suggested that the domestic problem was consuming all his energies and he could not concentrate on Kashmir.

Hindustan (May 13)

The May 13 edition led with the story of the clashes in Karachi. The alliterative (anupras alankar) headline read, "Karachi burns in Judge-General confrontation" (jaj-jeneral ki jang me jala karachi). The element that is most noteworthy in the display of the story is a quote inset in the photograph that shows two men with their back and flags in their hands, one pointing and the other heading towards, vehicles that are burning and casting flames all around. The quote is from the Dast-e-Saba, the collection of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed ¿Faiz¿s writing when he was in prison. A difficult poem to render into English, the original that is quoted in the photograph reads:

nisar main teri galiyon pe ae watan, ki jahan/chali hai rasm ki na koi sar utha ke chale/jo koi chahane wala tawaaf ko nikale/nazar chura ke chale. jismo-jan bacha ke chale.

The words rendered in English are:

O homeland! I offer myself as oblation to your streets, where
there is afoot a custom that no one walks with head held high.
When setting out on the pilgrimage,

the lover averting attention cares for life and limb.

The poem from which these lines are taken is in a collection of poetry that was written by Faiz during his imprisonment in Pakistan. The military regime had put him behind bars for his alleged seditious activities and his poems harking for freedom and independence are deeply evocative and have political resonance. The use of these lines, which is used by many Pakistanis as a lament for a failed state, serves in this story both to signal a lament for Pakistan in the eyes of the informed readers and even for one not aware of its contexts it alerts to the present state of Pakistan as a country wrought in turmoil. Among all the different uses of elements to highlight the story, this one stands out of the use of a quote that alludes and illustrates.


The analyses are not based on a robust sample and the broad conclusion is merely indicative. It is clear that the over riding trope that the coverage offers is of Pakistan being a failed state and the country in the grip of a civil conflict where the religious groups, extreme and fundamental in nature, are seen to have the potential to disturb the country and also push it to a conflictual abyss. The translations do not offer any glaring cases of shrill rhetoric, but a closer analysis of the original and the translation would have to be made to arrive at any definitive conclusion. The absence of Indian journalists in Pakistan is made clear in the use of wire copies and if at all any further work is to be undertaken it should be not only examining the way that the stories are presented in the newspapers but also the way in which the wire service, including British and US services, report from Pakistan.


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