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Experts ponder peace journalism in Pakistan

By Steven Youngblood, director, Center for Global Peace Journalism

Can media be a force for peace in Pakistan?

That question, among others, was on the table yesterday at a conference titled “Peace Through Education and Journalism” at Sukkur IBA University in Sukkur, Pakistan.

I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the event. But before my speech, four Pakistani journalists gave their own takes on the subject.

Naz Sehto (bureau chief, KTN-Pakistan) started the day by noting that “something is wrong” with education and journalism in Pakistan. He cited examples of how hate speech still proliferates in Pakistani textbooks. For example, he quoted several texts that said, “Islam is superior to all other religions;” and “Many other religions claim equality but do not act on it.”

Sehto noted that current media reporting “creates hate,” and that the lack of openness and freedom in media fuels conflict and “makes people easy to manipulate.”

Picking up this theme, Mahim Maher (news editor, Friday Times) presented data that demonstrated the marginalization of and hostility towards women in Pakistani media. A 2013 study analyzed 21,949 TV and newspaper stories, and found that women were used as sources only 74 times—hence the title of Maher’s presentation, “Silence of the Lambs.”

She also discussed language and framing of stories. Maher said women are portrayed only in limited narratives—as poor, sick, or victims. She analyzed terms like “allegedly” and ”domestic dispute,” noting that they are used by Pakistani media to sanitize or misrepresent violence against women.

Hira Siddiqui (Center for Excellence in Journalism, IBA Karachi) discussed language and diversity in media. She noted that newsrooms have failed when it comes to diversity, and indeed, that Pakistanis generally think about diversity in only “a limited way.” Siddiqui also led an interesting discussion about language, including the use of the term “enemy” to denote Indians.

In my keynote, I gave a brief presentation about the basics of peace journalism, and led a discussion about the viability of PJ in Pakistan. The consensus among the expert presenters in the audience–yes, it is possible to some extent, although many obstacles exist. 

Today, I finished my peace journalism activities in Sukkur with a presentation to a large, lively group of students.


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