KARACHI: For a country that has historically been extremely pro-Palestine and refused to recognise the state of Israel, the coverage of the recent Gaza attack by its media, especially local newspapers has been slow in recognising the issue.
The attacks that began on Wednesday, November 14 with Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza strip and retaliatory strikes on Tel Aviv from Gaza have claimed nearly 40 lives on both sides of the border.
While the issue has not made page one for most publications in the local press, the debate over the ongoing violence has occupied a front and centre position for Pakistanis on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, who criticised the local press for its lack of interest or concern.
The coverage by the broadcast media has been even more limited.
Monitoring Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 newspaper editions of four national English newspapers in the country – including Dawn, The Express Tribune, The Nation and The News and three leading Urdu dailies including Jang, Nawa-i-Waqt and Roznama Express – reveals how much editorial significance was allotted to the story.
DAWN ran a news story and an analysis featured on the international pages (Pages 12 &13) on Friday and one story on the back page (Page 14) on Saturday.
The Express Tribune
The Express Tribune ran one news story featured on the regional page (Page 8) on Friday and one story each on the front and regional page (Page 8) along with an editorial in the Opinion pages on Saturday.
The Nation ran four stories on the issue. These included one news story (Page 8) and a news analysis (Page 9) on the foreign pages, one news report on the Back page (Page 12) and one small news item on the Business Page (Page 16) that discusses the impact of the Gaza attack on oil prices.
It also ran five stories on Saturday including three news stories and two analysis pieces.
The NEWS ran one news story on the National Pages (Page 8) and another on its World News Page (Page 11). On Saturday, it ran three news stories along with an opinion piece.
Roznama Jang ran one news story on Page 3 on both days.
Roznama Express also ran one news story on its National/International Pages (Page 3) and four news stories on Friday.
Nawai-e-Waqt ran the news story on its front page on both days along with two news stories on Saturday.
While almost every foreign publication has been covering the situation in Gaza extensively, none of the English and Urdu daily newspapers in Pakistan ran more than one or two stories on the attack for the first two days, with the exception of The Nation.
The coverage improved marginally on Saturday once violence in Gaza escalated even further.
The gap in coverage of international issues by the Pakistani media is not a new one. The same trend has been observed in the coverage of the on-going violence in Syria that has claimed over 40,000 lives till date.
A large hue and cry was also raised on social media over the abysmal coverage of the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by the local media, earlier in the year.
According to Ejaz Haider, a senior columnist, the lack in coverage can be attributed to shoestring budgets that most publications in Pakistan operate on and an over all lack of expertise when it comes to reporting on complicated regions like the Middle East.
“Forget faraway lands, we don’t even cover India properly,” said Haider. On the other hand, the coverage of Pakistan in Indian newspapers is much more in-depth and comprehensive, he added.
Senior columnist and academic Rasul Baksh Rais shared the same opinion.
According to Rais, the vacuum in coverage of international events by the Pakistani media – electronic media in particular – reflects a lack of integrity, professionalism and training by media organisations.
With respect to the Gaza attacks in particular, Rais stated that it is a major news story in terms of peace in the Middle East and human suffering but the Pakistani media predictably remains focused on its internal issues such as policing political actions and parties.
While problems within Pakistan are innumerable and complicated, it does not justify obliviousness to the outside world.
“If we stop the navel-gazing and constantly talking about our own problems, we might realise that our situation is not as bad as we think it is,” said Haider.
He further added that one of the reasons for the under-reporting of the Palestine-Israel conflict could be the loss of the novelty factor.
He compared it to the coverage of the Kashmir issue where someone reading a Pakistani newspaper might think that things were completely normal in the region. But that remains far from the truth.
“One of the tools use by oppressors is to create a sense of despondency, so that even the supporters of the cause get worn out,” he said.
For Pakistanis, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, rather than traditional media have been the primary source of information about the Gaza attacks. While experts like Haider support the use of tools like Twitter, calling it the “most uselessly useful tool”, he also admits that it cannot be a substitute for sound analysis.
According to Rais, the only way of ensuring balanced, fair coverage to different kinds of stories from all parts of the world is for media houses to stop taking shortcuts in their profession and invest in personnel with sound reporting, writing and research abilities and a holistic view of the world.