The watchdog dilemma
An 11-year old mentally challenged Christian girl was arrested on blasphemy charges for allegedly burning down pages of the Noorani Qaida. But the news was not big or significant enough to make it to the headlines of most local television news channels in Pakistan.
The news initially emerged on a website called “Christians in Pakistan” on 18th August 2012. It reported that Rimsha Masih, resident of sector G12/0 Islamabad was arrested on 17th August 17 2012 by the women police on charges of burning 10 pages of the Quran. It also reported approximately 2000-3000 Christians fleeing from their home due to threats from extremists to burn down the village. The news was picked up by almost every local print publication but remained largely ignored by the broadcast media. Until 22nd August 2012, five days after the initial incident, no headlines on any of the major local television news channels have covered the story.
Which brings me to the dangerous issue of media bias in Pakistan. Why does a story like this get little or no attention by TV channels? Is it because such incidents have lost their novelty? Or is it because a story about the brutal treatment of non-Muslims in the country would dampen the spirit of the largest Muslim festival? Would the incident have been treated differently if the girl in question belonged to a different faith? Or is it simply a question of ratings, where you feed the public’s appetite for mindless entertainment while a minor might be sentenced to death under an inhumane law?
The reasons could be any or all of the stated above but what is worrying is that now certain sections of the media are not even reporting on such controversial matters, paving way for a culture of indifference.
At the same time, the vacuum in coverage of this news item is being compensated by ample coverage from the international media. Almost every major foreign publication from BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, The Hindu to Khaleej Times has run a story on the issue. The narrative and framing of the story spans everything from violation of human rights to the continued persecution of minorities in Pakistan, adding to the endless list of negative news that consistently emanates from the country.
It is a grim truth that we live in a society that is becoming so increasingly intolerant that it will not stop at anything, be it the desecration of graves or using barbaric laws against mentally challenged minors to oppress those who are not exactly like us. But what saddens me more is the bias displayed by institutions like the media, whose primary responsibility in times like these is to protect those who might be unheard otherwise. And that responsibility remains binding regardless of religious festivals, the victim’s faith or the ratings mania. Because no matter what “asool” or journalistic guidelines’ TV channels pay lip service to, the truth is that responsibility to humanity always reigns supreme.
The writer is a recent graduate from the Columbia Journalism School and is currently working as a freelance journalist. She has also previously worked as a broadcast journalist in Pakistan.
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.