With its incidents of terrorism dominating the airwaves, Karachi probably is considered the most dangerous part of the world’s most dangerous country. It may be true but it is definitely not the whole truth. Any news originating in Karachi trumps news originating in any other part of the country because Karachi is at the centre of the journalism business and other peripheral areas just do not get similar airtime. A recent study by Intermedia Pakistan on “How Pakistani Media reports terrorism-related conflict”, reveals that the geography of a news item is a very important determinant in its importance and placement.
The study came up with some very interesting observations. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Fata, Balochistan and Sindh seem to be suffering almost daily from incidents of terror. While the print media is giving due coverage to all regions, the priority and non-priority areas are quite obvious in electronic media reporting.
According to the study, Sindh remains a priority area for TV channels. One of the reasons that Sindh is regularly featured with respect to terrorism could be the fact that terrorism incidents in Sindh, specifically Karachi, are usually linked to political upheaval. The fact that the head offices of most news channels with a team of skilled reporters happen to be in Karachi, also helps in detailed reporting of many aspects of the incidents, something which is not possible in remote areas. On the other hand, news about Fata and K-P seems to be relatively underplayed on TV.
The study reports a total of 119 incidents of terrorism in Sindh between January and March 2012. On TV, the region seems to be a priority with 56 stories aired in the monitored bulletins. Balochistan was mentioned as a terrorism target as many as 123 times during the same period but the number of related news items about the province was only 15.
However, it is not only the number of items about Sindh that makes this region a priority area. A look at the placement and significance of news items from here confirms this trend. Television channels give priority to certain news items by putting them ahead in news bulletins; news generated in Sindh is given more priority in prime time bulletins compared with news generated in Balochistan.
Balochistan seems largely under-reported on the electronic media. News from Balochistan makes only nine per cent of news on the nine o’clock bulletin. The whole world knows how bad the situation is in Balochistan and that incidents of terrorism occur every day, yet the province only gets about 10 per cent of the priority time in television news bulletins. The print media has been more responsible regarding this and 28 per cent of priority items that appear on the front page of newspapers are from Balochistan.
News is a serious business and reporting terrorism is a very sensitive matter. Many reporters have lost their lives while reporting from the conflict zones of Balochistan and Fata because militants felt that they were not given enough coverage. If news reporting continues to be about the urban centre, not only will we not know what is truly happening in the areas of our news periphery, but it may also trigger misguided policies at the state level.
The detailed report is available online at Intermedia’s website www.intermedia.org.pk
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2012.