Monday, November 12, 2012

Media Hyperbole?

I've just returned to Pakistan after a month away, and it's always a little tough to come back home from a more developed country to this country, which is dysfunctional in almost every way. So it's nice to be reminded that there are things about Pakistan that work, if unconventionally, as described in this article by the Financial Times called "Time to Look Again at Pakistani Society" (unfortunately it's behind a paywall, so once you've looked at it, you'll have to pay if you want to see it again). The article looks at the push for education and gives a shout-out to the project I'm involved in, Education For Sindh, with its project to give vouchers to thousands of out-of-school kids in Karachi and rural Sindh.

I wonder if Pakistan can truly be described as "deeply conservative", though. Or at least whether that appellation applies to all of the country's doings. It's appropriate when it comes to looking at how women are treated - conservatism and patriarchy go hand-in-hand, of course. But I'd say that in most other aspects of life, Pakistan is not "deeply" conservative, but "hypocritically" conservative - people like to show a conservative face, and then do whatever is convenient, desirable, or enjoyable, conservative or not. We're very good at pretending to be pious Muslims, but we're not. We talk a lot about being respectful, honour-bound, holding to traditions, culture, what have you, but inside we have deep insecurities and complexes about our identity.

Then again, both local and foreign media often describes the situation in Pakistan in ways that are so full of hyperbole that it becomes hard to tell what's true and what's false. Here's an example in an article about Pakistani lawyers by the Washington Post:
"In a country where militants rule large swaths of territory, corruption is endemic and people are “disappeared” by security agencies..."
The Washington Post is correct that corruption is endemic and the security agencies kidnap people, especially in Balochistan. But militants do not "rule large swaths of territory". It's easy to slip untruths in amongst correct facts, and what you end up with is a picture that becomes gradually distorted, like a badly tuned television.

Am I being too picky? Possibly. But I want the truth, not lazy journalism, and not a distorted picture. Is that too much to ask?