‘White’ authority in Pakistani media – by Mazhar Arif

Most of the decision-makers in North American news and entertainment media are White. Media ownership is mainly concentrated in the hands of White males; White journalists dominate the mainstream media; and White people hold most creative positions in the entertainment media as actors, writers and directors. All these factors contribute to the prevalence of “Whiteness” in media, and help to reinforce White privilege as the norm.

Most mainstream media content also reinforces White privilege by featuring White characters and addressing White interests and experiences. When programming does feature non-White characters, they usually appear in supporting roles. News and information media also demonstrate the preponderance of white privilege. In the early 1990s, the media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) surveyed the makeup of the guests on ABC’s Nightline. It found that 80 per cent were professionals, 89 per cent were male, and 92 per cent were White.

FAIR also found that on PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, 90 per cent of the guests were White, 87 per cent were male, and 67 per cent were current or former government officials. A 1996 survey conducted by Women, Men and Media found that subjects interviewed for the evening news were predominantly (75 per cent) professional White men. As well, 86 per cent of American network news was also reported by White men.

When one looks at the media, both print and electronic, in Pakistan, one finds similarity between American and Pakistani news and entertainment media as there are also a kind of “Whites” who dominate mainstream media, people from particular ethnic and linguistic groups hold important positions and these people promote and protect privileges and interests of particular groups. Then, it should not be surprising that out of top 100 columnists and anchors in Pakistan , more than 50 are from Punjab based in Lahore or Islamabad-Rawalpindi whereas 25 to 30 are Urdu speaking from Karachi , Islamabad and Lahore . Among them, 12 to 15 are retired civil and military bureaucrats largely from Punjab .

In Pakistan , mainstream media centers i.e. Karachi , Lahore and Islamabad are located at the boundaries of the country and reflect culture, lifestyle and aspirations of the people living in those big cities and again which are largely dominated by particular ethnic and linguistic groups i.e. Urdu speaking in Karachi and Punjabi speaking in Lahore and Islamabad . Big majority of the population living in the mainland and speaking different other languages are not represented in the mainstream media.

Majority people get coverage in the regional newspapers, only. Private TV news channels report rural-central Pakistan as Western media report black Africa —something unusual and bizarre for “educated urbanites” from tribal-feudal society. TV channels, and print media also though with very few exceptions, completely ignore the struggle of the mainland people for their social, cultural, economic and political rights. Long marches of Sindhi people for their water rights, demonstrations by Seraiki people for land rights and large protest rallies by peasants even in Punjab for the ownership of land they are cultivating for the past one century are no news for the mainstream Urdu and English media.

Owais Mughal, in his article “Sindhi newspapers in Pakistan ” writes, “One topic which I have consistently found appearing in bold in Sindhi newspapers is about the irrigation water. While Urdu press does not mention irrigation issues unless there is a flood or severe drought. Water flow measurements at Sindh barrages make regular appearance in Sindhi news. Every few days I see a news item showing concern on depleting water levels at Guddu, Sukkur and desert like conditions downstream of Kotri. It shows that sharing of river water is a matter much more serious for Sindh than it gets its share on national media. This issue gets such a unanimous support in Sindhi press that I have not yet seen a single editorial in support of building new dams like Kalabagh etc.”

Nationalist political parties and their leaders hardly find any space in mainstream media. One could imagine the difference of belonging to different ethnic groups that when MQM’s leader Altaf Hussain addresses party workers from London , he gets live coverage. However, one would hardly see any Sindhi, Baloch, Seraiki or Pakhtun leader on TV while addressing large public meetings in their respective regions.

Baloch people have their own grievances against the dominant media. Malik Siraj Akbar, in an editorial in The Baloch Hal Online, describes media situation in Balochistan that the people of Balochistan were forced for a long time to read newspapers that were headquartered outside the province and had a friendly stance towards every government. Unwilling to carry a single editorial or op-ed page article on Balochistan for several months, these newspapers never tried to raise the voice of the people. They did not protest over the military operation or the killing of Baloch leaders. They overlooked the violation of human rights. The only interest these newspapers had was to get official advertisements and supplements from the Directorate of Public Relations (DPR), an organ of the provincial government, and Press Information Department (PID), a department of the federal government.

With the induction of electronic media revolution, Balochistan’s issues should have been reported more regularly in the private news channels. On the contrary, the true picture from Balochistan still fails to make ample space in the so-called national electronic media. There are very sad but valid reasons for the blackout of Balochistan’s problems in the national media: The owners of private news channels and the big guns in the powerful political quarters seem to have developed an understanding that young, qualified Baloch journalists should not be given jobs in their Quetta offices.

Even some journalists do not endorse the “White authority” attitude in the media. Shahid Ilyas in an article “Do not hate me for who I am!” (Daily Times, 30 June, 2010) laments,  “Going by the rhetoric that one comes across from a host of media, including e-mails, the internet, TV shows, blogs and personal conversations, it is very disturbing to see the level of hatred which the youth in Punjab (is it only the youth?) —exceptions notwithstanding —harbour against personalities like President Zardari, President Karzai, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahmud Khan Achakzai. On the other hand, a soft corner in their attitudes is discernible for Qazi Hussein Ahmad, Nawaz Sharif, Zaid Hamid, Hamid Gul and Pervez Musharraf.”

Senior journalist from Peshawar , Ismail Khan, in his article “Role of ethnic media” (Dawn, 30 May, 2010) wrote, “ Punjab is still in a state of self-denial. As gunmen, lobbing hand grenades and firing automatic weapons killed 79 worshippers, all that television anchors and those sitting inside the television studios were keen to find out from their reporters covering the carnage in Model Town and Garhi Shaho was the ethnic identity of the assailants.

“How were they dressed?” asked one newscaster. “They were wearing shalwar kameez,” the reporter responded. “And they looked like Pathans,” the reporter added. Even after the police claimed clearing up the two places, anchors remained curious. “Are they locals,” asked a senior anchor who conducts a 50-minute show on one of the leading news channels.

Well, they must be disappointed. The main suspect in custody, Abdullah, turns out to be a Chachar from Rahim Yar Khan. Does this make the crime the gunmen have perpetrated by less? Had the perpetrators turned out to be Pakhtuns, which everybody in the electronic media so keen to find out and establish, would that have made the bloodbath any more tragic? Sadly, the Punjab and for that matter the mainstream media, dominated by many television anchors who happen to be from Pakistan’s largest province, have still not gotten it.”

Source: Viewpoint



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