Researcher finds editorials of Pakistani newspapers on conflicts devoid of real content

Most of the editorial writers of Pakistani newspapers are not trained to editorialize war and peace-related issues and end up either criticizing the government or taking sides with militants often resulting in conflict instigation.

Ahsan Raza, a journalist, and researcher as well as media teacher, said this in an interview with this scribe on Thursday.

“An editorial presents a newspaper’s opinion to put up their official policy on the most pressing issue of the day and considering their importance, editorials being powerful tools have the power to shape general public and official policymakers’ opinion; editorials’ role as agenda-setter is a very well established all over the world,” reads the abstract of Mr Raza’s research thesis titled ‘Media conflict resolution: the framing of the editorials of Pakistani English and Urdu newspaper on government-Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan dialogue from January 2014 to July 2014’.

While doing the research, Mr Raza says, he carefully analyzed more than 1,000 editorials and bulk of related studies on peace journalism, conflict resolution, and media policies.

“The one thing I noticed in editorials of Dawn, The Nation, The News, Daily Times, and Express Tribune – and Urdu newspapers – Jang and Nawa-i-Waqt- on the peace talks between the Pakistan government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan from January 2014 to July 2014 is often editorials are repetitive of contents and present no solution,” says the journalist-researcher.

He wrote his MPhil thesis on the dialogues initiated on the recommendations of an All Parties Conference, convened by the then government of the Pakistan Muslim League-N in Islamabad in September 2014 which mandated the government to hold dialogues with the militants’ umbrella organization, the TTP.

Using agenda-setting and framing approaches, this study found to what extent these newspapers covered the topic and what were their slants. “Overall, English and Urdu dailies’ editorials showed that several topics came under the editorials’ orbit whenever the issue was discussed which included stakeholders’ stance on the dialogue, bodies engaged in the dialogue from both sides, factors like terrorism and terms and conditions of dialogue impacting the dialogue process and military operation during the dialogue process and so on.

“The talks were the talk of the town, so newspapers had to give it space. But how these talks were being editorialized is a matter of concern. Look, all English newspapers rejected the idea of dialogues from day one. Amazingly, right-wing Nawa-i-Waqt also stood by English newspapers’ editorial policies whereas Daily Jang went for the government policy,” said Mr Raza, who is now analyzing the recent talks between the government and Khadim Rizvi-led Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan.

“The elements of peace journalism were missing from the content of editorials. One would easily infer after reading of these editorials that the writers did not want the armed conflict to be managed through talks or some other non-violent means.”

He emphasized the need for community and stakeholders’ engagement in the editorial content creation process.

You mean the militants and military people should write editorials?

“No. Not at all! I am saying that before writing an editorial on such sensitive issues, the editorial boards should reach out to the parties in conflicts and get their point of view and initiate a dialogue with them,” he explains.

“This will put in meaning into the essence of editorials.”

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