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July 15, 2019

Meeting claims minorities do not get enough attention in mainstream media

Karachi

July 15, 2019

Talking about the findings of a recent study claiming that Pakistan’s religious minorities are not a major beneficiary of the transforming media landscape and media coverage, the participants of a discussion said that minorities are mainly painted in a victimhood framework.

The Institute of Research, Advocacy & Development, an Islamabad-based civil society group, on Saturday held an interface meeting with minority activists and media persons to discuss the findings of its research titled ‘Narratives of Marginalisation: Reporting Religious Minorities in Pakistani Media’.

In the discussion, minority rights activists and media practitioners said that mainstream media does not pay much attention to the issues the religious minorities face in the country. They also said that most of the media coverage about them does not even include their views and opinions, rendering them voiceless to their own cause.

Muhammad Aftab Alam, the organisation’s head and co-author of the study, said that the main purpose of the study was to analyse how Pakistan’s diverse array of religious minorities, which is small percentage-wise but runs into millions in numbers, is finding itself in terms of representation in media coverage about the overall society and polity in transition.

Other co-researchers were Adnan Rehmat, a freelance journalist and political analyst, and Emilie Lehmann-Jacobsen, a research specialist and media development expert. From October 8 to 21 last year, the media, including TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and online media, were monitored in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Starting his presentation on the study’s findings, Alam said the 2017 census showed that Pakistan had a population of 207.68 million, including 96.47 per cent Muslims and 3.53 per cent members of other faiths.

“According to the 1998 census, the Muslim population was 96.28 per cent and the minorities’ 3.72 per cent. The population ratio of the minorities has decreased, as shown in the latest census,” he said.

For example, Hindus’ population changed from 1.73 per cent in 1998 to 1.61 per cent in 2007, while Christians’ decreased from 1.59 per cent in 1998 to 1.27 per cent in 2007. He said the government neither gave any reason for the reduction of the non-Muslim population nor did the media do any research on it.

Alam said the study reviewed the most dominant themes characterising the coverage of religious minorities, the news sources used in the coverage, the gender diversity in perspectives of the coverage, the stereotypes and frames in which they were portrayed, and the tone of the coverage towards them.

“The overall media coverage of religious minorities in quantum terms is generally low, and the most widely available media — TV and radio — carry very little or no coverage of them at all,” the study observed.

Hindus and Christians are the focus of almost all of what little coverage of religious minorities is available with other minorities getting almost no coverage, said the report. It also said that non-Muslim journalists comprised only 1.3 per cent of about 20,000 journalists in the country’s media industry.

The study found that most media coverage of religious minorities-specific issues is reactionary or event-based reporting with little or no analysis, limiting a rights-based approach to their interests.

The report also gave some recommendations on improving the quality of media coverage and profile of religious minorities. It included raising public awareness about the news diversity landscape of Pakistan’s media and its challenges, sensitising and training the media on religious pluralism and more nuanced coverage of religious minorities, promoting interface meetings between representatives of religious minorities and the media to improve mutual understanding, and to curb their stereotyping. It also recommended training journalists and online information practitioners with religious minorities’ backgrounds on professional approaches to a rights-based civic education.

Kashif Baloch, a prominent researcher associated with the Punjab Lok Sujag, moderated a discussion between minority activities and media persons, where they called for better coordination between journalists and members of different faiths. The participants of the meeting also expressed concerns over the growing intolerance in society due to militancy and the rise in incidents of forced conversions in Sindh.

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