The Other Side of the Story

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Nabeela Rehman, 9, holds up a picture she drew depicting the US drone strike on her village which killed her grandmother, during her appearance before Congress. While the media remains obsessed with Malala Yousafzai's story, it has completely ignored Nabeela's tragedy. AP photo
Nabeela Rehman, 9, holds up a picture she drew depicting the US drone strike on her village which killed her grandmother, during her appearance before Congress. While the media remains obsessed with Malala Yousafzai’s story, it has completely ignored Nabeela’s tragedy. AP photo

Mainstream media everywhere has its strong biases and agendas. And nowhere does this holds truer than in the powerful global media corporations

RABIA ALAVI

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he one rule emphasized in school was to balance our observations and views – and it didn’t matter if it was a science report or literary essay that we were writing. When we became students of Mass Communication, the formula remained the same: research before you write – and be objective.

In this day and time, news publications, channels and web sites compete to become the best source of 24/7 information. Added to this, is the potential of social media and Citizen Journalism to tell the news as it unfolds.

And we are left in a situation where there is no time to seek the truth out, or be objective, for that matter. If you don’t hurry up and tell the news, someone else will.

Consequently, professionalism has taken quite a harsh beating. Media, as the responsible ‘fourth estate’, is no longer operational. Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

If it was true when he said it, its an even more pertinent a statement today. News reporting is associated with unscrupulous narratives, selective omissions, and misleading definitions and terminology  – all of which deliver an untrue picture to the public.

A more serious concern is how today’s mainstream media culture tends to polarize the world by playing up the differences; the rich/poor inequality, electoral majorities and minorities, and of course the Shia-Sunni divide – which was never so stark. Even worse is how it dichotomizes the Muslims (blatantly held responsible for global acts of terrorism), and the rest of the world (that bears the brunt of their evil-doings).

Someone wrote in to me and asked why I never wrote about Nabeela Rehman. And if your memory is anything like mine, you might well ask, who is she?

Last October, this nine-year-old Pakistani girl flew in to Washington DC from North Waziristan, along with her father and brother, to testify in the Congress. She spoke about a dastardly drone attack that killed her grandmother, and gravely injured her siblings and her.

Yet, unlike Malala Yousafzai, who survived a Taleban attack more than a year ago, to become a symbol of spirit and courage for the world, Nabeela found no favor with the media, and effectively no sympathy from the world. The pick-and-choose news selection policies that mainstream media uses to decide on what content to feed its audience, ruled that she was an unworthy candidate.

While Malala’s speech at the UN, her meeting with the US president, and her book, I am Malala, easily made headlines, Nabeela’s disturbing question, “What was my grandmother’s fault”, caused little furor.

This is not to denigrate Malala’s story, for she deserves all the world’s praise and support as she emphasizes the need for global education.

But it is pertinent to ask, was Nabeela’s suffering any less painful just because US drones caused her injuries (and loss), and not religious extremists, militants or terrorists – known enemies of world peace?

Mainstream media everywhere in the world has its own biases and agendas. Journalists admit that there is no such thing as objectivity in reporting. And nowhere does this admission hold truer than in the powerful global media corporations, mostly owned or run by the West, for they have a long history of conforming to the official, more powerful narrative.

This is exacerbated when the news agencies are US-owned, for their journalists shy away from reporting the suffering and devastation caused by America’s wars (supposedly to stabilize or liberate nations). At the same time, fingers are immediately pointed towards those who are ‘rogues’ in the American recount.

Major journalistic blunders (deliberate or otherwise) are made, as the media – and this includes news agencies that feed news stories to most newspapers in the world — is seemingly duty-bound to twist, distort or break news into tiny pieces before it presents it to the masses. It ensures that the reporting is conducive with the line towed by superior powers that help run the media organizations.

Criticism of Israel is a no-no in the US, and the media slant towards it shamelessly obvious. With the help of a willing media apparatus, America aims to turn the Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially the unlawful expansion of Israeli settlements, into no more than a real estate dispute.

Similarly, its ‘war on terror’ – which was never really about finding weapons of mass destruction – was fully backed by American media.

As the US searched for fictitious WMDs and Al Qaeda fugitives, countries under its radar suffered devastation, their infrastructures, economies and people’s lives destroyed. Yet, its media has been reluctant to protest against what the US administration sees as mere collateral damage.

Honestly speaking, nobody in the Middle East really cared if Osama Bin Laden was dead or alive. But media organizations propagandized his assassination as a defining moment for the world, just because that was how the US wanted it to be portrayed.

The American obsession with Islamists in recent years has meant that the news worth of a story is defined by an act of violence that can somehow show Islamists as the culprits.

And so, the Abu Ghraibs of every ‘American occupation’ are brushed under the carpet.  And you hardly find news of foreign soldiers in Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan ordering people around, or shoving, beating or shooting them down as they interrogate innocent civilians. Nobody talks about the lack of food in a house, because those who could earn money for them have been arrested or killed, and no mention is found of a traumatized generation of children who have seen nothing but humiliation, death and destruction at the hands of these foreigners.

BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen says that journalism is all about “shining a light in the darkest corners of the world”.

By choosing who deserves to have this light shone upon them, media shuns its responsibility to deliver the message of the many nameless, faceless Nabeela Rehmans of this very troubled world.

 

 

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Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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