Noam Chomsky in his book ‘Media Control– The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda’ dates down the history of propaganda to 1916 (World War 1) when Woodrow Wilson was elected as the President. Wilson used media as a tool for ‘turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, warmongering population’. According to Chomsky, reality is relative and is constructed. “The truth of the matter is buried edifice after edifice of lies upon lies”.
In the case of Malala and the developments succeeding her injury, debates and controversies have spurted both at national and international level. As sympathy has poured down from across the globe to support a teenage Swati girl, marginalized voices are also questioning the ‘media hype’ that has given increased or above average projection to Malala. The timing of the incident is equally important. The assassination attempt was witnessed after a two-day “peace march” against American drone aircraft targeting suspected Islamist militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas close to the border with Afghanistan. On the other hand, Pakistanis were furious about the anti-Islam film which increased resentment against the US.
Fouzi Slisli, Assistant Professor at St. Cloud State University, Minnesota stated,
“If Malala had been killed in a drone attack, you would neither have heard updates on her medical status, nor would she be called “daughter of the nation,” nor would the media make a fuss about her. General Kayani would not have come to visit her and neither would the world media be constantly reporting on it. The pliant Western media and its liberals do not give even 1% of this attention to the Pakistani and Yemeni girls their government kills with drones everyday. Even humanitarian outrage, they only express it when it serves the interests of their snake governments”.
In recalling conversations with Yousafzai, the Christian Science Monitor’s Owais Tohid noted her sources of inspiration:
She answered: “Probably, a hero like the Afghan heroine Malalai [of Maiwand] or Malalai Joya. I want to be a social activist and an honest politician like her,” she said. Activist and author of A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, Joya has also faced attempts on her life after speaking out against the oppression of women under the Taliban, but she is explicit in counting the U.S. and NATO too as enemies of Afghan women’s (and men’s) right to live and learn in peace.
The U.S and Pakistani Media have made no mention of this activist, who has been declared by Malala as an inspiration for her. Instead, the notion that ‘President Obama is Malala’s ideal’ has been reiterated. On the other hand, Malala Joya has never grabbed the same amount of time and space in the US media as Malala has. This clearly reveals the moral relativism in the coverage of individuals who are affected by almost the same conditions and for similar reasons. However, the media is bent more towards one of them (in this scenario it is Malala).
From the above discussion it can be concluded that Moral Relativism is the basis for conducting Media Propaganda. This is the reason that Malala’s case is being analysed in light of these two themes. What is left to be examined is that to what extent national media synchronized its voice with that of international media (which has been morally relative).
Playing up – Quantitative assessment:
In order to learn and examine the extents to which the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai had been played up or played down by the print media discourses in Pakistan. Three leading English dailies have been selected (Dawn, The Nation, The News). The rationale for selecting English dailies is that they can be compared with international print media discourses.
Dawn labels itself as a conservative, liberal newspaper, which prefers a rational approach towards issues.
The Nation serves as an advocate for the ideology of Pakistan. It is a sister publication of Nawa-e-Waqt, founded by late Hameed Nizami.
The News considers its policy to be moderate, conservative and radical, but the newspaper is more inclined towards commercialization. It is a sister publication of Jang newspaper, part of the Jang news group founded by Mir Khalil ur Rehman.
Method: For the purpose of quantitative assessment, front pages of all the dailies were read. The lead story (any story with bold faced headline appearing near or closest to the masthead of the newspaper) and any news item pertaining to Malala that appeared on the front page was taken as a means of ‘playing up’ the issue.
Time frame: October 10, 2012 to October 12, 2012 – when most of the news items relevant to Malala’s case were published.
It is evident from the result of quantitative analysis that Malala’s case had been played up to a great extent by The News with 18 news items about Malala getting published in just 10 days. The Nation and Dawn have more or less given equal coverage on front page. It is noteworthy that at present The News is the most widely distributed daily in Pakistan.
Analysing agendas- Quantitative assessment:
For the purpose of studying policies, stances and agendas adopted by the print media discourses (those studied quantitatively before) a critical discourse analysis of the editorials was done. The stance that a newspaper adopts pertaining to any event or issue is reflected through its editorial. In other words, this section of the newspaper acts as a mirror which exhibits that how the newspaper aspires to portray an event. That portrayal is in line with the policy of the newspaper. Each newspaper sets for itself certain norms and principles which are strictly followed and are best identified by reading the editorial. While those which do not adhere to any defined policy are more prone towards ‘commercialization’ and publish ‘news which sells’.
Method: All the editorials containing the words; Malala and Taliban (simultaneously) were considered for Critical Discourse Analysis. The aim will be to interpret the image of Malala and Taliban constructed in the editorial discourses after October 9, 2012 (the day Malala was injured). Another objective will be to look for comparisons between Malala and victims of drone strikes.
The following table presents the quantitative editorial treatment of ‘Malala Yousafzai’ by the three English dailies from October 10, 2012 till October 20, 2012.
Malala has been projected as ‘a symbol of resistance in Swat to the Taliban`s obscurant agenda’, ‘ crusader for girls` education’ and ‘an outspoken critic of the Taliban’.The Taliban have been portrayed as a ‘barbaric group’ that is again disturbing the tranquillity of Swat valley. Malala has been labelled as a brave girl, more audacious than the military and government of Pakistan. “It took the particularly jarring targeting of a particularly brave child to jolt Pakistanis and their leaders out of their doubts about, and desensitisation to, the threat that violent extremism poses to our security and way of life”. Dawn has linked the blatant assassination attempt with the rise of extremism in the country and has compared Malala with the ‘juvenile targets of blasphemy’. The editorials have refuted ‘conspiracy theories’ and the lame excuses of foreign intervention thus completely ignoring the victims of drone strikes. To get rid of the brutality being spread by Taliban Dawn has suggested ‘zero-tolerance policy towards militancy’, urging the military to conduct an operation in North Waziristan. In an editorial ‘Skewed narrative’ Dawn has formulated the opinion that Malala’s case cannot not be compared to drone strikes or Lal Masjid operation. “Drone strikes may be unacceptable in their current form and end up killing innocent children, but doing so is not their intent”. According to this editorial discourse, Taliban’s ‘deliberate attack on a teenage girl’ should, by now result in a national consensus against the Taliban.
The Nation has narrowed down the issue as that being between Malala and Taliban. It has condemned the attack by Taliban and labelled it as ‘barbarous violence’. It has not explicitly opined against the Taliban like Dawn, but has suggested that such attacks cannot ensure a secure future. While discussing about the operation in North Waziristan , The Nation has also referred to Tehrik-e-Taliban hideouts in Afghanistan.
The News has given least editorial coverage to the assassination attempt on Malala. In the four editorials published during the selected days, the newspaper has mainly focused on the incident. It has advocated the need for ‘education’ as it is the cause for which Malala placed her life at stake. The News has explicitly dedicated an entire editorial to build the opinion that the culprit behind the attack on Malala is nestled in ‘Afghanistan’. In one editorial ‘Politics and Polarisation’, The News has advised the political leadership to develop a consensus against ‘violence’. It has manifested the view that operation in North Waziristan shouldn’t be conducted with the sole reason of attack on young Malala but the violence that is fanning as a result of such attacks. Interestingly, not a single word like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ was used in the editorial discourses of The News. Similarly, not a single word like ‘barbaric’ or ‘brutal’ was used for the Taliban.