Columns

Fatima Aqeel ’12: The media tool

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, November 13, 2009

If you’ve been reading newspapers or watching the news, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about Pakistan.

And probably not many good things.

The thing about the media is that it is an extremely powerful tool. For people who sit sipping coffee in the mornings, reading about parts of the world that they have never been to, newspapers are integral to forming impressions about this other world.

When I, for example, read something about Lebanon or Colombia, this will be the only impression I take with me of these countries for a while, probably until I have a chance to visit these places myself or befriend someone from there. But someone from Lebanon or Colombia would look at this information about their country with very different eyes.

Similarly, when I read or hear news about Pakistan, I think of it very differently than most other people do. Every time I read about a car bomb, or listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton express doubts about Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror, I know that conditions are bad, and for the past couple of months, they have been getting worse.

But, on the other hand, I also know that people still go to work, children go to school and play in parks, there are still fantastic theater performances and art exhibitions, and in science laboratories at hospitals, people are doing research and are trying to come up with solutions to the world’s big health problems. In other words, there are perhaps more problems than there are in the average country, but good things still happen. Good people exist.

It’s like how every time you read about Mexico, you read about murders and drug cartels, so you probably think people don’t even go out on the street. But Mexicans are supposed to be the happiest people (at least according to my Macroeconomics book, “Macroeconomics” by Olivier Blanchard).  So obviously, the Mexicans must have gotten something right.

Similarly, every time I read about Israel, I read about rocket attacks and people dying, but life goes on there as well. And for most people, it is a good life. You still live with the fear of dying, but if you think about it, different people all over the world are exposed to equally real dangers elsewhere. The probability of death may be the same for different reasons.

My only reason for my knowing what Pakistan is actually like is that I was born and grew up there. And even though there have been political and economic problems, most people have had happy lives.

For many reading the newspaper, however, Pakistan is a country where nothing is going on as it normally should. Or at some level, they may know that things are still carrying on as usual, but they can’t comprehend how.

All this obviously implies that what is and what is not put out there by the media really matters. When people start thinking of a country as being more “messed up” than it actually is, the country is likely to go on a downward spiral, where conditions worsen and the country suffers more than it otherwise would. Politically, the country becomes toxic, and nobody believes there is hope for it. Economically, fewer and fewer foreigners want to travel to it, invest in it or help it.

In other words, the content of newspapers can have an impact on the state of affairs in a country, on what foreigners think of a country and on the country’s reputation as a whole.

This column is in no way pointing toward censorship. Solutions to problems can never be found by hiding what is going on, and moreover, people deserve to know the truth. But on the other hand, for a country that has so many bad things said about it, it is also important to present the other side of the coin.

As a Pakistani citizen, I don’t see the army as terrorist sympathizers. I see the army, the government and the Pakistani people making extraordinary efforts in the American-started war on terror.

The army is clamping down on its own people. Pakistanis are fighting other Pakistanis. If you think something seems wrong with this situation, well, so do some Pakistanis. Others wholeheartedly support the war on terror, including the ordinary citizens who endure frequent suicide bombings. But they get discouraged when their country is given no credit for its efforts.

Those citizens deserve some recognition from the international media. While I’m not suggesting that the media totally flip their narrative about Pakistan so that it is only portrayed in a positive light, maybe once in a while they could see things from our point of view.


Fatima Aqeel ’12 is an economics concentrator from Karachi, Pakistan.
She can be reached at Fatima_Aqeel (at) brown.edu.