Archive for October 6th, 2010

The Media Turns a Blind Eye to Pakistan

By Maryam Jameel for North by Northwestern

U.S. media coverage of Pakistan’s flood disaster remains low while apathy and misinformation run high.

Throughout the summer, while politicians and news correspondents debated endlessly over the precise coordinates of New York’s Park 51 community center, an immense disaster struck the nation of Pakistan. Floods covered much of the country, leaving an area roughly the size of England underwater, and inflicting more damage than South-East Asia’s tsunami, and Haiti and Kashmir’s recent earthquakes combined.

The U.S. media, however, has scarcely reported on the flooding. In the two weeks following Haiti’s earthquakes, The New York Times published 88 articles on the topic. About the flooding? 15. And only one of these was front page – one discussing “hard-line Islam” in flooded Pakistan.

In an effort to raise awareness of Pakistan’s situation and contribute donations for flood relief, Northwestern students have launched a campaign called NU Stands with Pakistan. Weinberg junior and SASA co-president Sahil Mehta is one of the students leading the initiative. “I think it’s a unique opportunity to push a world view of saying we’re all in this together, these people are the same people who are suffering in the United States, the people who are suffering in Pakistan are the same people who were suffering in New Orleans during Katrina, the same people who are suffering in Haiti,” he says.

Members of Northwestern’s community were personally affected; Northwestern has a large number of Pakistani international students and students of Pakistani descent. “NU Stands with Pakistan is about what stance our community takes when something like this happens. Whether its in Haiti, whether it’s a tsunami, whether it’s in Pakistan,” Mehta says.

Alongside the underreporting of Pakistan’s floods, there has been a low response in aid donated for Pakistani flood relief compared with other recent natural disasters. “I think at the end of the day our information controls our action, we are reactions to what we see, and if we’re not seeing anything, I think it’s going to de-motivate people to act,“ Mehta says.

Weinberg senior Sana Rahim is also at the head of NU Stands with Pakistan. “There is mass Islamophobia in this country, and I don’t want to say it, and I don’t want to believe it, but I do think that has to have some kind of hand in why so many people are not paying attention,” says Rahim. “When they see images of Pakistan, and when the media talks about the terrorist activities in Pakistan, it’s not going to really call people to respond.”

Professor Loren Ghiglione says that while U.S. media is a large influence upon its audience, it is also a reflection of its audience. “There’s good coverage [available], but it’s probably in a limited number of places, and the question is also who bothers to look at it? Partly, it’s the public’s response too,” he says.

McCormick sophomore Khalid Aziz lives in Lahore, Pakistan. Lahore, alongside Pakistan’s other major cities, was not directly affected by the flooding; however, most of Pakistan is experiencing the economic effects of the disaster and the pain of watching so much of its population displaced. “Whenever we tried going out, you just couldn’t have fun in Pakistan because you were feeling so guilty, because one fifth of the population was directly affected by these floods, and the rest were indirectly effected by the rising food prices, and it’s only going to get worse because so much of agrarian life is underwater,” Aziz says.

Though the majority of Pakistanis have zero connection to the so-called terrorist groups that the media frequently covers, the constant news reports affiliating Pakistan with terror creates quite the opposite impression. “I think that the media needs to have a bit more of a conscience in this regard. [When] the only thing [the average American] sees about Pakistan is about terrorism, he might not send in the 10 dollars or 20 dollars he could have otherwise sent to the flood victims,” Aziz says.

Aziz reflects that to expect Americans to express nothing but kindness and generosity towards Pakistanis after years of negative, often sensationalized reports, would be unrealistic. On articles depicting Pakistanis’ current situation, he saw many individuals write comments saying that they would not want to spend their hard-earned money to help a “terrorist country.”

With the limited media coverage of Pakistan, most of which talks of violence and some of which now speaks of suffering, displaced human beings, deciding how to feel towards Pakistan remains a challenge for many. “There may be a sense of ‘is Pakistan our friend or our enemy or what?’” Ghiglione says.

“Pakistanis are people who Americans’ fear is instinctively telling them not to feel bad for, but their human side is saying that these are just regular people, these are average people who are trying to lead lives and earn honest livings just like myself and my neighbor,” Mehta says.

NU Stands with Pakistan is raising funds throughout this week at Norris and Scott Hall. Funds will go to Oxfam to assist with flood relief efforts.

“We’re hoping to motivate a dialogue that continues past this campaign, that continues into the year and continues in classes and discussions an other events,” Mehta says.

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