By failing to show the humanness of our own people, we too have shown that we think of ourselves as nothing more than grains of sand in a black Sahara. How can we possibly chide others for thinking the same of us?
It was sometime between the bombs and the violence that gripped the nation a few months ago that I realised how our media had failed us. We were under attack by a sinister power, one that believes in violence against innocents as legitimate. And yet no attempt was made by our media to unify us or boost our morale.
Instead, what we saw on our TV screens and read in our newspapers was the type of reporting one would expect from the foreign media; one in which the victims, on this side of the divide, are presented as numbers. Day after day, as the attacks continued, all we got were the facts. There was simply no attempt to portray the victims as being human.
There was no human interest story about the innocent gardener and his young daughter who were blown up in the Model Town bomb attack. There were no tear-jerking images or reports that would rally a nation under attack together. There was no coverage of little girls with teddy bears crying for their fathers or images of wives holding candle-night vigils as their husbands struggled for their last breaths in hospitals. There were no black and white slide shows of the murdered as children slurping ice cream or playing with the garden pipe. There was absolutely nothing on TV that made you identify with the sufferers.
I think of Kargil, of how the Indian media used this attack on its sovereignty to bring its nation together, and realise how we, as a nation, are inept at the art of unifying. After Kargil, the Indian media did what its government had been unable to do: unite people from all segments of society in a burst of patriotism. As movie stars sang patriotic songs on TV and held fund-raisers for the soldiers, private citizens held hands across the country in solidarity, the media was able to transform a negative into a positive by giving its people a cause to believe in.
Here in Pakistan there is no dearth of causes and, especially, disasters. But instead of using them to rally our people together, we use them to beat each other up. After the recent barrage of violence, the only response our media could muster up was to blame Musharraf and the US. And so, once more, instead of uniting, we divided. Instead of connecting, we separated. And the media, once more, used its powers to spread negativity instead of creating positivity.
For all due purpose, we were at war. But there was no identification of the opponent, no emotionally charged videos of Nur Jehan singing war songs, absolutely nothing to help us come together in this time of crisis.
After 9/11, when America attacked Afghanistan, there were very few American news networks that covered the anti-war rallies being staged across the world. As frustrating as it was for those of us who were taking part in those rallies, one has to appreciate the effort of the US government to do what it felt was in the best interest of its people.
And so the American media did what it does best: dehumanise the victim. After all, it is easier to beat up on those whom you have already declared sub-human. So while the death of one American soldier was a colossal tragedy to be mourned at an international level, hundreds of dead Afghanis were merely listed as “casualties”.
Dehumanising the enemy is an effective strategy that has long been used by oppressors, so it is no surprise to see the foreign media doing it to us. They are watching out for their own interests. But when we start doing it to ourselves, we have to wonder: whose interests are we watching out for? So used to being dehumanised by the Western media, we have started dehumanising each other.
This is the new imperialism. Brainwashed by centuries of colonial rule and now, the foreign media, we do not consider the deaths of our fellow citizens worthy of reporting but get teary-eyed at B-Grade movies such as Flight 93.
In his book The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad speaks about a dead African, “a savage” who was of “no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara”. He was insignificant — just another ugly dead body. By failing to show the humanness of our own people, we too have shown that we think of ourselves as nothing more than grains of sand in a black Sahara. How can we possibly chide others for thinking the same of us?
Ayeda Naqvi has been a journalist for 16 years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: Daily Times, 22/4/2008