No journalism free of bias

Published: April 5, 2012

The writer is Web Editor of The Express Tribune and tweets @Jhaque_ jahanzaib.haque@tribune.com.pk

Story after story the comments are always the same. “Why is this paper so biased towards liberalism and secularism? Very unethical”, “Why are you always covering every small issue of minorities? Pakistan has so many problems”, “immature writing to attract youth”, and so on.

For the thousandth time, there is nothing unethical about setting an agenda for a newspaper or media organisation. Let us not be naïve or ignorant; all media groups have an agenda, it is not even an open secret, it is often written down as is the case with this newspaper. It has been stated that The Express Tribune hopes to fight “the twin menace of extremism and economic decline by spreading liberal ideas and mobilising the young people of Pakistan”.

There is nothing illegal about promoting liberal ideas or focusing more on attacks on minorities compared with other issues, or trying to get young people to read the newspaper by creating content that interests and attracts them. If you don’t like the agenda, don’t read the paper, but enough of this shock and awe over how much space say a Pervez Hoodbhoy is given over a Shireen Mazari, or why Veena Malik is covered at all. Let us end the inane criticism of how the paper needs ‘balance’ — the balance is there as long as you can read the ingredients in the mix.

No, the agenda is not what you should be upset about; we all have one, even on a personal level. Send three different reporters to cover the same event and you will receive three different reports, which — even if all three report the facts truthfully — in their very choice of words will add on a layer of subjectivity that would make all three reports different. I myself have no qualms about labelling myself a left-leaning liberal and a secularist. I wear my biases on my sleeve — it is honesty that compels me to do so, in order that the reader knows where my work is coming from. Thus, calling me out for being a liberal or a secularist has no meaning.

I would go as far as to argue that there is no journalism free of bias. This is not some radical philosophical stance requiring Baudrillardian leaps into the ‘desert of the real’ or a discussion on whether language can ever convey the true nature of reality. People consume news from a source, not because it is unbiased and presents the whole truth, but in spite of (or in preference of) its biases and certain version of the truth. All regular consumers of news innately turn to multiple sources to build a complete picture, knowing full well what agenda each source comes with.

No, the question is not — why do you have ‘X’ agenda; it is why you are not transparent about your agenda. Why is it not written out and publicly accessible so we, the citizens, know where you are ideologically operating from? This would be a more pertinent question, as it would then be possible to hold the journalist or media group accountable based on the agenda they set themselves. Here in Pakistan, there is an even more important question to be asked of journalists and media groups: why does your agenda on issues shift depending on the medium, i.e., from English to Urdu? Why do two different papers within the same media conglomerate have a different, often opposing stance on various issues? How is it that your news channel is reporting on and exposing black magic charlatans, yet your dramatised programme 45 minutes later features a ‘psychic’ investigator who describes the ‘real’ powers of these same ‘black magicians’.

Yes, every journalist and every group has an agenda. The question is not whether or why the agenda exists, but whether it is being followed, whether it is transparent and whether it is being upheld across the board.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2012.

Reader Comments (40)

  • Sajid
    Apr 5, 2012 - 10:44PM

    Sometimes when ET reports on taboo topics such a prostitution, homosexuality, religious conversions etc, the I-dont-have-a-word-to-describe-them launch a tirade with complains such as “is this the only and most important thing to report? there are more serious issues”….Well the simple and plain answer to I-dont-have-a-word-to-describe-them is that It may not be the most important thing to report but It is not the only thing ET has reported. If your personal beliefs or bias restrict you to swallow a pill of reality then go somewhere else and read a fiction for god’s sake! These people are the very reason that justifies Tribune’s agenda and I am fully behind ET for its agenda of spreading liberal values.

    Recommend

  • zeeshan khan
    Apr 5, 2012 - 10:51PM

    there should be no shame in being liberal,secular or non-religious.This constant bullying and intimidation of any channel that is even remotely non-religious is a hallmark of religious fanatics the world over.
    If ET is giving voice to the atrocities committed against the religious and sexual minorities,then it is doing a good thing.It is standing up for the rights of the marginalised,the persecuted.
    It is time atheists,agnostics,ex-muslims stopped being apologetic for their non-belief.The relgious rightwing has persecuted the non-religious for far too long.

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  • aftab rauf
    Apr 5, 2012 - 10:57PM

    Standing against homophobia,misogyny,religious intolerance and bigotry is a good thing.What ET is doing is a good thing.It should not be cowed down by the badgering of Zia’s children.the people attacking ET are those who are used to seeing only their version of what pakistan should be like,they don’t take kindly to any alternative viewpoints,they resort to baseless attacks and accusations to weaken the resolve of those fighting for the rights of the victimised.
    The self-righteousness of the mazhabi tabka is evident in all the invective hurled against LGBT ppl,atheists,ahmadis,hindus and secular people.The religious extremists think they are the only ones in the right and harangue anyone they don’t agree with.

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  • Liberal Fascist
    Apr 5, 2012 - 10:59PM

    I also have courage to admit that I’m a left wing liberal “Fascist” Thumbs up this statement because there is no option of Thumbs down LOLs.

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  • Falcon
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:04PM

    Few thoughts for you to consider:
    Firstly, what you are espousing is media positioning. This is understandable within the context of business model and target segmentation but doesn’t seem like a good idea from information neutrality perspective and how human mind operates. Furthermore, based on my observation, I don’t think your regular customers are in habit of viewing other newspapers. The result: It creates a skewed version of reality where your dedicated consumers only see the negative face of Pakistan and therefore, consider it a hopeless place for the foreseeable future. Similarly, your op-eds also seem like the elite venting about society rather than understanding the true nature of problems. May be you will benefit from putting positive news on successes and entrepreneurship on the top portion of the website as well just like all the negative news and attracting more diverse op-ed writers.Recommend

  • faraz danish
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:04PM

    Be it any media group or NGO or anyone with a consience,they should not surrender before the pressure tactics or hounding by the religious regressives.This newspaper should continue to air the views of those who have traditionally been censored and persecuted in pakistani society.
    Ex-muslims,ahmadis,hindus,atheists,gays and lesbians are all communities that have been violently pushed to the margins of pakistani society.It’s time the unreligious came out of the closet they’ve been pushed into.Enough with the coercion and oppression of the unreligious,it’s time the religious learned to live in peace with those who’ve stopped following any religion.

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  • Hassan Shah
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:05PM

    ET is a good forum for 50 or 100 Secular who keeps favoring porn and US drone attacks in which most of the people killed are civilians.

    I think such people are bringing bad name to ET. I’m fed of the vulgarity and suggestive columns that ET has on top/recommended for the readers to read. That’s why, with 100000+ likes of ET page, it gets, 20 to 25 likes, for all the posts on average.

    ET needs to rethink. Recommend

  • Mohammad Safir.
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:13PM

    E,T is not out of biased paper when they removed the historical facted artical about shiaism in this paper. what a shame .. but allow to write main stream faith..

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  • faizan usman
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:14PM

    The discrimination and animosity towards atheists and agnostics must come to an end in pakistani society.Athiests have been ill-treated and oppressed to a horrific extent by our people.They are treated as the enemy,they are treated like animals just because of their non-belief.Athiests are no less human than the religious.athiests are just as good,honest,hardworking,morally upright and good charactered as any theist.Recommend

  • saad aziz
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:18PM

    @Hassan Shah:

    the population of pakistan is over 180 million people,our country topped the world in searching for porn on the internet.leave the 50 or 100 seculars you mentioned,what are the rest of the religios 180million doing on the internet?

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  • mani
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:18PM

    but i don’t think any newspaper’s job should be to propagate a certain “agenda”. It will cause nothing but bi-polarization. Frankly, in my opinion, both extremes of the spectrum i.e. religious extremism and liberalism make little or no sense.
    Let’s condemn extremism instead of any religion or ideology.

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  • sarfraz amjad
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:22PM

    @Hassan Shah:
    the people killed in drone strikes are terrorists who’ve killed thousands of pakistani civilians.The only civilians killed are the ones providing shelter and support to the terrorists by keeping them in their houses.The people who provide shelter to terrorists are the ones responsible for the deaths of everyone in their house.those who use other people’s homes where women and children are present to plan and conspire for attacks on pakistanis are the ones responsible for the deaths of those women and children.
    the drones have helped kill a lot of the militants in areas where our own troops could not go.They’ve helped save a lot of pakistani lives by eliminating the terrorists before they could conduct any more terrorist operations.

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  • Hafeez
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:47PM

    It is perfectly understandable to have an agenda. However, since your paper wants to uphold and spread secular and leftist ideals, you are destined to fail if you don’t reach out to sizeable population of Pakistan. Sharing secular ideals with mostly the already secular would not make much of a difference. You should focus on spreading this message in Urdu language as well where you can reach out to a majority of population. A simple means would be to translate opinions to urdu language in your urdu newspaper.

    Recommend

  • sidjeen
    Apr 5, 2012 - 11:49PM

    i liked ET because it started as liberal and secular but for some reason it is now coming towards the center of the ideological divide and might soon start leaning towards the right soon well that would be bad but its simple economics i understand that if you don’t believe me just make a comment that is going to hurt some religious bigots feelings and it wont be published by whoever is the guy who is hired by ET for censoring people’s comments but you can abuse secularism and liberalism as much as you like in fact many religious fanatics have started calling liberals fascists without understanding the meaning of the word and without any basis but those comments cannot be censored because hey who cares about the liberals.

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  • BlackJack
    Apr 6, 2012 - 12:53AM

    There is nothing wrong with encouraging a point-of-view (a less offensive word for an agenda) as long as it is not fundamentally divisive or anti-national; and ET’s format and content are high quality, thus attracting arguments from different parts of the spectrum; no newspaper in India does it this well (The Hindu stands for responsible journalism, but hasn’t managed to engage readers like ET has) – which is why there are so many of us Indians over here.

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  • Kafir Khan
    Apr 6, 2012 - 12:54AM

    There is no truth, but only perspectives. Nietzche

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  • Ali
    Apr 6, 2012 - 1:23AM

    @sarfraz amjad:
    If you call yourself a liberal after that comment then you need a reality check. You have made sweeping generalizations on so many levels and justified drones and civilian casualties that even liberals in the west are objecting to. Please try to read more and watch documentaries, that will add to your knowledge of the situation.

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  • ALi
    Apr 6, 2012 - 1:59AM

    So its true that this website has an agenda. I thought they only used to report as news but now its confirmed.

    They want everyone to be banging partying drinking!

    Thanks ET for such a useless agenda!

    Recommend

  • ALi
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:01AM

    @saad aziz:
    How ignorant can you be? The reason why ppl are watching porn is tht they are NOT RELIGIOUS and more towards liberalism!

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  • ALi
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:02AM

    Ohh btw discriminating against Shia Killing and no reporting is part of what part of agenda ?

    Extremism of ignorance?

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  • Muslim and Secular
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:31AM

    Secular does not mean God-less. Our mullahs will let us believe that anybody who is secular is athiest. I had a fairly religious up-bringing but I am secular. Secular actually means open to other peoples believes and religions. A state is secular if its decision-making is not done through the prism of religion. Religion is a very personal thing and everybody is answerable to Allah for his OWN actions. If you are religious, good, no need to shove it down everybody elses throats.

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  • Mariam
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:32AM

    @ Zeeshan “It is time atheists,agnostics,ex-muslims stopped being apologetic for their non-belief.The relgious rightwing has persecuted the non-religious for far too long.”
    So basically ET consists of these kind of people, and is a forum for the not-so-silent voices of “atheists. agnostics, ex-muslims”? Right? And u think this minority represents the MAJORITY of Pakistan?! And you want to change the majority’s mindset for your own selfish needs and beliefs. If you dont like it here, go abroad then. Coz you are a minority, stop trying to further divide Pakistan!

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  • Mariam
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:52AM

    “There is nothing illegal about promoting liberal ideas or focusing more on attacks on minorities compared with other issues, or trying to get young people to read the newspaper by creating content that interests and attracts them.”
    ^Okay its not illegal, does that make it okay?

    @Faizan Usman ur comment “Athiests are no less human than the religious.athiests are just as good,honest,hardworking,morally upright and good charactered as any theist.”
    Ur right they are no less human. However character-wise? Atheists have no character. For them there is no concept of right and wrong. There is no concept of after-life. Therefore they live life to the fullest in this life on earth. They may not realise it but they worship the materialistic god of this world. Try to achieve success here in this one life, no matter by which means. So they are caught up in a system that only focuses on material selfish gains, without any consequences.Therefore Im afraid u cannot call their character good. Might as well be followers of Levoy’s church of Satan. There they celebrate this very lifestyle – No consequences, no prejudices or judgements.

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  • gujranwala789
    Apr 6, 2012 - 3:38AM

    When PMLN and other nationalist parties will come in power inshallah after the next elections then they will show you all so-called liberals your true worth.

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  • ASHOK
    Apr 6, 2012 - 3:41AM

    A journalist should act more like a photographer, capturing and displaying the reality as it is; they should not try to act like a painter, trying to paint picture of others liking.

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  • mir agha
    Apr 6, 2012 - 4:49AM

    It’s not within my right to question your beliefs. But i will question the sanity of someone who thinks propagating some far-off manipulated ideological belief is going to catch hold or hold legitimacy, even in academic and professional settings. You’re seen as reactionaries because you are reactionaries, just like your ideological foe, the talibs. Extremely discouraging from a liberal pov that the so-called liberals can’t withstand criticism and close their eyes to reality. A close study of the leftists who identify themselves as liberals in Pakistan leads one to the fact that they really aren’t liberals, just leftist reactionaries rationalizing the illiberal conduct of hostile foreigners/neocons/neoliberals . Why the surprise when effectively countered? The victim hood complex is evident not only from the original writer but also from the comments. A lot of comments are censored or not published if they don’t conform to the likes of the leftist moderators. And since when did “ex-muslims” (a recent Islamophobic political construct) become a community? Especially one that propagandizes for very illiberal elements?

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  • MarkH
    Apr 6, 2012 - 6:43AM

    People don’t usually notice bias until it hits on one of their own. Otherwise they’re in agreement. The only reason they don’t cancel each other out is usually the one complaining will end up pushing a new issue from his own bias agenda taking notice away from its simplicity and around in circles it goes. That’s pretty much the mechanics of arguing for the sake of arguing, or sometimes simple friendly debate. But, for it to be debate it usually has to stick to a topic and that most certainly does not work out well on here in comments or many other places for that matter. Though I can’t think of one place it doesn’t happen and I really did put some effort into thinking about it.
    Then there are the trolls just looking for the right place to poke on here and offline they go by many names. My preference is douche bag or Roflcopter.

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  • Kataria
    Apr 6, 2012 - 7:03AM

    so you want an ideological state of the leftist bent? Don’t flatter yourself, you’re just neocon apologists.

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  • murad
    Apr 6, 2012 - 11:15AM

    Very true but a very simple question why then words like “Ghairat Birgade,Agents of Establishment,are being used against all those journalist,writers who belong to Right Wing .I mean if People like Kamran Shafi, Parvaiz Hood Bahi, Aysha Sideqque, Mr Naqvi ,Mr Saroop have a right to preach their Secular ideas why not Rights. If there is no problem in setting Agenda then why dual standars when it comes to Rightist.why are they always blamed for everything. If you have a freedom to write, why you liberal have a problem when any rightist writes something Anti USA,why his thoughts are always linked to his Faith,Religion.why are they labeled as Fundamentalist Recommend

  • Readme
    Apr 6, 2012 - 1:27PM

    Believe it or not, there are people out there who believe there is a world beyond quran, hadith. And no, you cant silence all of them. They don’t believe what you believe. And they’re Pakistani too.Recommend

  • rehman
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:40PM

    we common Pakistani people stuck between Marvi Sarmad and Zaid Hamid

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  • T
    Apr 6, 2012 - 4:41PM

    @sarfraz amjad:
    “the people killed in drone strikes are terrorists who’ve killed thousands of pakistani civilians.The only civilians killed are the ones providing shelter and support to the terrorists by keeping them in their houses.”

    I feel sorry for you. You only believe in what you are told. Go to those places yourself and you will find out how many innocent people die with these drone attacks..INCLUDING “women” and “children” .. now you will say that those children also support the terrorists..Recommend

  • Abbas from the US
    Apr 6, 2012 - 4:50PM

    The quality of a good journalist is to be able to minimize his prejudices and being able to generate the widest interest in the possible readers. The quality of the media in any society is representative of the freedoms, the ablity of the reader to discern and the ablity to read between the lines of the journalist’s reporting. Finally a good reader with an interest in a particular story will pursue the same reporting thru more than one source of media reprorting, that may give the reader a multiple choices of built in bias to conclude one that is synchronous with the reader’s own personal bias.

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  • Farhat Rabia
    Apr 6, 2012 - 5:42PM

    Well said!! Just one critique some of the opinion/blogs are so amatuerish that even my 6th grader would write better. I urge Express Tribune to be selective and ensure the quality of journalism is upheld even when biases/taboo topics are touched upon.

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  • anticorruption
    Apr 6, 2012 - 6:17PM

    Agenda or no agenda, at least you should not censor comments you don’t like. I posted a reply to this piece but it has been blocked? Why? Because I pointed out some ethical standards in journalism and something in your own code of conduct that are not being followed by express?

    Why does express tribune regularly mix reporting with innuendos and comments when your code of conduct clearly states, “The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.”

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  • Apr 6, 2012 - 8:42PM

    To celebrate the centenary of UK’s famous liberal newspaper, the Guardian, and his 50th anniversary as its editor, CP Scott wrote ‘A Hundred Years’ in 1921. The essay’s famous sentence ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred’ has endured as the ultimate statement of values for a free press. My only problem is that many of the “desi liberals’ do not know much about liberalism. It means commitment to democracy and not to the American agenda If this is idea of journalism, then it is “Rupert Murdoch’s” dirty game and little to do with the great liberal traditions. Recommend

  • Apr 6, 2012 - 11:50PM

    I find your attitude towards non-religious minorities incredibly offensive.

    Atheists and agnostics aren’t trying to impose their views upon you. Our objective is merely to gain acceptance, and not be harassed and threatened into following a religious lifestyle that we don’t believe in.

    To rid the society of this ignorant nonsense about atheists not having “character”, or no understanding of right and wrong. Judging by the hateful, misogynistic and violent acts that many theists carry out, it’s safe to say that being religious doesn’t ensure a superior understanding of right and wrong either.

    Remind me when was the last time an atheist burned down a girls’ school, or bombed a marketplace “in the name of Charles Darwin”? Do you honestly believe it’s appropriate for you to be condescending to the non-religious community?

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  • Ozymandias
    Apr 7, 2012 - 4:12PM

    @gujranwala789:
    The Pml-N is NEVER coming into power. They’ll be lucky to hold onto Punjab

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  • observer
    Apr 8, 2012 - 10:40AM

    @Gujaranwala789

    When PMLN and other nationalist parties will come in power inshallah after the next elections

    You mean PTI and the Khan are not ‘nationalist’ enough?

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  • Ali
    Apr 12, 2012 - 5:54AM

    only pretty comments go up ? those that dont praise the writer dont show up, this is ET
    anyways most disjointed thing I have ever read

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