Unhealthy dose

12 Aug 2020


The writer is an author and an entrepreneur.
The writer is an author and an entrepreneur.

POLITICS dominates daily conversations in our country. In offices, restaurants, drawing rooms, and social media, you hear discussions about who loses and gains what, when, and how in Pakistan’s political scene. Many such conversations are emotionally charged attempts to, often incorrectly, guess the future.

Why does politics dominate our discourse?

One reason is that, as casual talk, politics is an easier subject than, say, theoretical physics. Another reason is that politics also dominates the media discourse — not only the content in our newspapers but also evening discussions on TV channels. Naturally then, politics creeps into our daily conversations.

Talking about print media, there is something peculiar I have observed in Urdu newspapers. The latter enjoy a wide readership (way more than English print) and their content fuels our national discourse.

Editorial and opinion pieces are an essential part of Urdu newspapers. I have been reading editorials and opinion pieces in three major Urdu newspapers for a while. And while doing so, I have found some excellent writing, but I was also surprised to discover a few things.

Since the Urdu media has a wide readership, it should go beyond politics.

My biggest surprise is that political topics get more coverage in both editorials and opinion pieces in most Urdu newspapers. Politics tends to get more coverage than health, education, economy, law, environment, technology and sports. Is it fair if media space, with a wide readership, gives far more coverage to politics than thoughtful analyses of issues that concern common folk?

The media sometimes laments the poor state of health, education, economy, law, and sports, but one is bewildered when the Urdu media itself mostly publishes editorials and opinion pieces on politics instead of having a diverse set of writers and experts writing on other issues of importance. All this lamenting is not going to do any good unless diverse and informed voices fuel our national discourse.

Let us also talk about opinion pieces. Politics dominates these as well. Political crystal balling is what most of these opinion pieces do. They rarely talk about issues faced by common men and women in their cities. Yes, every citizen should be concerned with politics and newspapers should publish pieces about it, but one feels that opinion pieces in the Urdu media are injecting an excessive dose of politics.

Furthermore, the opinion pieces in these newspapers are mostly written by the same set of people — a trait shared by English-language papers. Many of these people also appear daily on TV, either as host or expert (sometimes in both roles on different TV channels).

Politics dominates the discourse on TV as well, and it is amplified with guests from major political parties. Again, an excessive dose of politics. A diverse set of opinions is missing from some major Urdu newspapers. You seldom see an opinion piece from women, young writers, or people representing a minority or remote region. This ought to change.

Also, you don’t see experts writing opinion pieces very much. During the pandemic, the Urdu media should be publishing more pieces from health experts to give citizens and policymakers accurate information about the infection. But that hasn’t happened. Likewise, I have yet to see opinion pieces by notable economists or technologists. Since the majority read Urdu newspapers, lack of opinion pieces written by experts could be one reason why some daily conversations only scratch the surface when it comes to understanding big problems.

There are a few possible reasons why a diverse set of writers and experts do not publish work in many Urdu newspapers. One could be that some newspapers do not invite them to write. Or perhaps, they do not make it easy to do so. A few experts and young writers told me it was hard for them to find out who to send their writing to, but when they did and sent in their writing, they never heard back (a struggle I have shared while attempting to get an opinion piece published in Urdu newspapers, though to be fair this also happens in the English-language press). The third reason could be that many of these writers themselves are only interested in writing for English newspapers in the hopes of an international audience.

Events that happen in the present are usually the result of past actions. One could conjecture that if a large section of Urdu newspapers, with their huge readership, had previously given a voice to diverse sets of people and invited experts to write, there might be less polarisation today. The media needs to unite our people by binding their wounds, by giving them a voice, and by filling their hearts with love and light.

The Urdu media should play its role. By playing the game of ratings and injecting too much politics in the minds of people, it cannot prudently play its part.

The writer is an author and an entrepreneur.


Twitter: @wyounas

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2020