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Little voice

Published Oct 15, 2012 11:10am


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It has been an important week for me. I rarely watch television news as it’s too depressing, but on Thursday I tuned in by chance to watch the BBC. I immediately saw images of Pakistanis fill my screen. Not the usual rock hurling Pakistanis, irrationally shouting amidst flaming tyres, but gentle candle-lighting, beautiful Pakistanis with words of love and peace on their lips. It was UN International day of the Girl Child and the BBC chose to illustrate this with a story of what they termed a National Awakening in Pakistan, following the shooting of 14-year-old school girl, Malala Yousafzai. I was delighted at the apparent 24 hour flip from a narrative of “those Pakistanis are so barbaric they shoot their own school girls” to one of hope, resilience, and a more accurate reflection of the millions who reject such an act.

Lots has been written about Malala in the past week. Politicians have flocked to her bedside. Crowds have taken to the streets. She is known around the world and now has a lengthy Wikipedia entry. More importantly people have started to revisit her blogs written on the BBC Urdu website about her life as a schoolgirl in Swat.

We live in extraordinary times. Thanks to technology, we are able to read the inner thoughts of a child on the other side of the planet. From my Cambridge home I can follow “Secular Liberal Feminist Vegetarian Idealist Egyptians” on Twitter (@aliaaelmahdy) and even see Liberian blackboard blogger Alfred Sirleaf in action on Youtube. Where mass media is seen to have an agenda – individual voices appear somehow more credible. In fact globally well over a 100 million of us now write blogs and journalism has been impacted as mass media take to publishing blogs and opinion pieces (like this one) more and more.

The BBC’s Lyse Doucet (@bbclysedoucet) presented the Royal Television Society Lecture this week about how TV journalism is being threatened by the social media. I would like to offer two theories – firstly that the overwhelming focus on negative stories in traditional news is making people literally “switch off” and secondly that we are living in an age of the Little Voice – but not necessarily the weak voice. It is when the little voice is shared with masses disproportionate to expected scale of influence that they become change makers and opinion formers far greater than traditional news channels are capable of. Governments know it – the British Foreign Office has two less than 100 bloggers and it’s diplomats regularly Tweet. Violent extremists seem to know it – some allegedly offer courses in social media for sympathisers, and many attack little voice’s like Malala’s – proof that the little voice poses a powerful threat. Businesses know it too – now paying writers to produce “independent” corporate blogs and infiltrating our social online space encouraging us to “like” Coca-cola or BMW cars. The BBC themselves have faced criticism for investing heavily away from broadcast and into their online functions. Big corporations, organisations and governments have jammed the airwaves and seem to miss the ethos of social media being at it most powerful when it's a little voice doing the talking. Perhaps Lyse could deliver another lecture on how social media is being threatened by the take over by the big guys.

Traditional journalism that presents news as “fact” is obliged to ensure that more than one credible source of information can back up the story. One criticism of social media is that there is no such obligation on a blogger or other online commentator. So the caveat when reading any blog, is to understand that it is one person’s story – not a news item. You can ask a hundred different people who all witnessed the same event what their experiences were and no two will say the same thing – the single-source argument can be unraveled when you scrutinise news presenting itself as fact or worse still “truth”.

Whilst we are busy sending 250 million tweets a day, and 800 million of us log into Facebook, we could honor Malala by thinking about how we might find our way through the masses of digital information and rediscover the authentic, credible individual voices out there. Don’t wait for a gruesome attack to read these quiet words. When we find them, we should pledge to listen to those little voices ... not just online, but in real life too.

It’s gotten very noisy out there, and along with the rest of the world, I am still trying to fathom out what this hyper connectivity means. This week was important for me, because I found – via social media – a swathe of little voices in Pakistan and provided them with a platform in the UK press. It was my first paid UK non-opinion news article and it was a positive news story about Muslim Love in Pakistan.


Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer and artist with a background in media strategy, diplomacy and community cohesion. Her book  A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011. She is currently planning a solo exhibition in London “See Karachi” touching on the perception of Pakistan in the media.  More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found here and on facebook.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (21) Closed

Carol Anne Grayson Oct 16, 2012 07:20am
This young girl has been through a terrible ordeal. I hope Malala makes a good recovery and goes on to complete her education. Unfortunately there are many thousands of little voices go unheard and the hypocrisy of the west towards education in Pakistan, killing children by drone and the ensuing displacement and internal conflict is denying so many an education and creating a multitude of Malalas. Its a pity people are not so vocal on this issue also...
Ankahi Baatein Oct 15, 2012 02:52pm
Its so heart warming to read something POSITIVE about Pakistan by a UK based writer... thanks for the blog. Peaceful, educated and enlightened people here in Pakistan are struggling to reach the end of a dark tunnel and children like Malala are like light, encouraging us to keep on moving ahead!
Aurangzeb Oct 15, 2012 11:49am
She is face of majority moderate, loving and hospitable peoples of Pakistani which has been painted negatively by western media. It is great disservice and discredit to a nation which has sacrificed so much without any direct reason. West should acknowledge and respect Pakistani majority.
masud Oct 15, 2012 11:48am
I agree with you and would like to believe that something has changed with this tragic incident. People have to support fighters like her so that we can stop this big war game which is being imposed upon us. Taliban who claimed to have done this have to be rejected. They are simply bunch of thugs and criminals nothing to do with people from that area who have always loved Islam and have always been good Muslim
fiaz Oct 15, 2012 07:32pm
Sir blame no one for evil we created, we danced to dollers tune, so we pay the price.
Jaseem Pasha Oct 15, 2012 02:06pm
When Malala dared to challenge Taliban, she saw them as enemies of human rights, enemies of progress, enemies of Pakistan, and NOT enemy of the West. The tragedy is that the people of Pakistan have not acquired enough wisdom like that of Malala, and continue to be 'unsure' about the character of Taliban and are afraid to come out in the open (unlike Malala) and ask all the stakeholders in the power infra-structure of Pakistan, like the Government, military, the supreme court and religious leaders: "Are you with us or against us. If you are with us, then be courageous enough to declare Taliban as our enemy. If it makes West happy, so what? If the West says to Taliban to stop killing Pakistanis, are you going to do the opposite just because the the idea was coming from the West?"
Cyrus Howell Oct 15, 2012 04:30pm
....sacrificed so much without any direct result.
muhammad Oct 16, 2012 03:19pm
Malala is no more a little voice as soon as I heard about the attack on Malala's life I don't know why suddenly the Sir Elton Jones famous song rung in my ears "Candle in the wind" May almighty Allah save her life and give her speedy recovery she is a most precious gem from Pakistan
Cyrus Howell Oct 15, 2012 04:34pm
Yes. She does.
Cyrus Howell Oct 16, 2012 11:44am
If the Taliban are so honorable why do they hide their faces?
patty hatfield Oct 17, 2012 04:58am
The courage and perserverence of this young woman, Malala is worthy of everyone's notice and gratefulness. Her complete unselfish and non political campaigning as a proponent of women of all ages gaining an education. Education is the true magic silver bullet for the betterment of a community, a nation and our world. i have found that usually the people trying to prevent education of women, only feel uncomfortable and fear of losing power themselves
Leftist Oct 15, 2012 11:24am
I wish something good comes out of Pakistan after what happened to the little cornflower. I wish her well and I hope to see her smiling really soon. I wish many positive stories come oout of Pakistan in the days to come. I wish to my children grow up and contirbute positively to Pakistan. As Dr. Martin Luther woud say "I have a dream today....." !!
Fan Oct 15, 2012 11:16am
This girl deserves the Nobel Peace.
Zafar Malik Oct 15, 2012 06:17pm
Malala certainly deserves a Nobel , and also once she recovers from this trauma she should be allowed in to stay on in UK for safety and for education.
Carol Anne Grayson Oct 15, 2012 02:02pm
We cannot assume that just because a writer is "mainstream" the reader will be presented with the "truth" or that sources are always credible. This is one of the reasons for independent social media which can sometimes be closer to on the ground realities. As someone who worked with the press as a campaigner for 20 years using the media to expose unlawful killing by the state, I had an excellent chance to observe how news was manufactured, who could influence and how a story could be killed off... Independence is a ideal and never an absolute reality...
John Oct 15, 2012 01:56pm
Agree, Europe didn't deserve it.
Iftikhar Husain Oct 16, 2012 10:40am
I hope Pakistani nation learns after this horrible episode and do something against these murderers who do not care for anyone in this world.
rubab Oct 16, 2012 12:36pm
i iove u mlala my jan sweetheart and caring
Alexa Oct 16, 2012 12:16pm
You speak a big brave voice. You speak with courage. Have followed your work for those little children that lie unsung in tiny unmarked graves. You are appreciated. Thanks.
KHAN Oct 16, 2012 02:24am
DougBrooks (@doug_brooks) Oct 16, 2012 12:31pm
Great blog. Malala is a little girl with a big voice and wisdom beyond her years. The face of true heroism right now and a powerful inspiration for those who dream of peace, understanding and acceptance across all barriers. We can only hope and pray for a full recovery. I sense the presence of a new Mandela.