Accentuating positive growth

A media-blackout of terror attacks like Charsadda would deprive the terrorists of their real target

Dr Asad Zaman January 24, 2016
The writer is vice-chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. He holds a PhD in Economics from Stanford University

Starting from weaker economies, many other countries to our east (China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and others) have performed better than Pakistan, either overtaking us or closing the gap. Of course, we do have a plausible excuse. The Afghan war — also called the AfPak war — has inflicted massive damages on Pakistan. Leakages in the supply lines of arms flowing in to Afghanistan, and heroin flowing out, and an influx of refugees, transformed our peaceful society and inflicted heavy economic, social and political costs. Nonetheless, instead of blaming our stars, we can rise to the challenge posed by our difficult circumstances, treating them as an opportunity to deliver the exceptional performance required to prevail.

The first step to a transformation involves believing in ourselves and our potential to achieve success. Leaders and visionaries inspire nations to put in the heroic struggles required for radical change. For this purpose, the poetry of Iqbal is a priceless treasure. His beautiful “Prayer for Children” can inspire our youth to give their all to bring light to the nation. Struggling together for a common goal is the key to success. Mahathir Mohammad gathered the leaders of the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities, and asked them to cooperate. He said that the nation could work together to increase the size of the pie, which would bring benefit to all. Or they could fight one another for bigger portions of a shrinking pie. By hammering out an agreement acceptable to all, he put his nation on the trajectory of rapid progress. Putting aside our differences and working together is essential to achieving development miracles. One of the ways to create peace, tolerance, harmony and the will to strive together for a common goal is to use the vastly underestimated power of the media. To understand this power, note that according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, there were 355 such incidents in the US in 2015. Only three of these were of Muslim origin, but media projection has created the widespread impression that Muslims are responsible for the majority of these incidents. In 2015, the number of deaths caused by weapons in Pakistan was less than in the US, but media projection creates the impression that Pakistan is far more violent.

Awareness of the power of the press leads to the conclusion, surprising to some, that media-blackout of news about terrorist incidents would be a powerful counterterrorist strategy. The terrorists’ real target is not the children they kill; rather they aim to strike fear into the heart of the nation. The more publicity they receive, and the more the nation agonises following such incidents, the more we encourage the terrorists, who achieve massive effects from minimal efforts. A media-blackout would frustrate the terrorists by depriving them of their real target. The media plays a critical role in shaping the self-image of a nation. On the dark side, it is well documented that numerous crime and horror movies have inspired gruesome copycat murders. However, the media can also act as a force for the good. If we search for and project cases of heroism, bravery, honesty, sacrifice, compassion, tolerance and justice, we will strengthen these qualities in society. Those who perform acts of valour will be encouraged, while others will be inspired to imitate these good deeds.

From the current gloom-and-doom talk popular in certain quarters, one would think that there is nothing good to report about Pakistan. In fact, there are a tremendous amount of wonderful things going on in the country. Numerous citizens have created functional institutions to bring education, health services and microfinance to the poorest members of society. An essential requirement for creating harmony and unity is the provision of equal opportunities for all citizens. The government makes massive investments in public health, education and other social welfare initiatives. Recognising and praising existing achievements in these areas, and demanding equal efficiency and effective outreach from all educational, health and finance institutions would go a long way to promote development. Rapid transformational change and growth could occur if we give up our habits of cursing the darkness, and start lighting candles instead. 

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th,  2016.

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Dong | 5 years ago | Reply I absolutely agree with the media blackout of the terrorists. Our media dramatizes the tragedies and plunders to unethical lows. You often cringe when the so called correspondent asks the mother of the victim "how do you feel about your son dying?". We need to dictate how such events are covered. Another aspect of media is accountability of the government in face of such events, asking them questions like what steps are being taken to improve policing, counter-narrative etc.
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