Does our media have attention deficit disorder?

Published: September 29, 2010

We don’t see what we want to see - we see what the media shows us. So who is to blame? The people or the media?

News stories are like bomb blasts in Pakistan. Stories, like bombs, go off at frequent intervals here. People die every day and those who survive get agitated and display their anger at the lack of security. But then another bomb explodes and everyone forgets about the previous one. It seems the media follows a similar path.

The biggest story of the year

The media told us that the floods were the most devastating catastrophe to have ever been witnessed by Pakistan. Newspaper headlines shouted that more people had been affected than in the Haiti earthquake, tsunami and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake combined. Television anchors explained that more than 3.5 million children were at risk of getting deadly diseases.

We were told the problems brought on by the floods would last for years, but coverage it seems would only last weeks.

While I sit and write this I can’t recall seeing anything on TV today that was related to the floods at all. It hasn’t been that long since the disaster hit. The last news story I do remember was that of Manchar Lake. Reports indicated that the lake was overflowing, then the water was drained and water levels had started to recede. That was that.

What happened? Have all the people, who were displaced, gone back to their lands? Is everyone all right now? Did all the aid that was committed by the international community materialize? Was it properly distributed to victims?

What happened to the follow up?

One way of answering the question would be this – the NRO beneficiaries list was submitted. The judiciary started having problems with the government. Target killings started again in Karachi. Pakistani cricketers were allegedly involved in spot fixing. Dr Aafia was sentenced to 86 years.

Pakistan is a country that generates news every day. Contrary to what many may think, this country is certainly a ‘happening’ place. Now, I am not saying that any of the above mentioned incidents were not important for the Pakistani people but are they important enough to justify sidelining an issue that seems to have destroyed the economy of the country and sent it back many years?

So what happened next?

Media coverage of the Sialkot lynching was extensive. Although some gruesome images were shown on television the media played an important role in bringing the issue the attention that it deserved. Not all news is covered as comprehensively.

For example what happened to the man who allegedly raped a nurse at Jinnah Hospital in Karachi? I remember the president taking notice of the case. But what happened after that? Do we really care when the president and the prime minister take notice or the courts takes suo moto notice. This seems to happen all the time but that’s all that happens. Until a new piece of more interesting news takes over and pushes the other one down the pile.

I remember following stories of the government in Karachi when it was carrying out raids against land grabbers. It seemed like an ‘exciting’ operation. But after a while I was left wondering what happened? Had the problem been resolved?

Can we blame the media for what the people are more interested in knowing about? If viewers are tired of seeing the same news about people in Thatta moving to relief camps because their homes were destroyed and then another story about people in Sajawal moving to relief camps because they suffered a similar fate and then more of the same as people in Sultan Kot make their way to relief camps – should the media really continue to follow these developments?

Why not cover which MNA has benefitted from the NRO and why the government isn’t taking action against him or her?

I am reminded of Spiderman’s uncle telling him “with great power comes great responsibility.”

The media in Pakistan is strong and has the power to mold public opinion. We don’t see what we want to see – we see what the media shows us. So who is to blame? The people or the media?

Ali Syed

Ali Syed

An MBA student at LUMS who likes to write about matters that may not really matter to most. He tweets @alisyedsays

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Taha Ali Adil

    A Message deliver from government to media channel after every news alert , you(media) already deliver the news to government official, now stop repeating again and again our dept are working on it.

    its normal thing which is happened all over the world, isn’t new thing.Recommend

  • Anam Aftab

    So true. Very interesting article Ali. Recommend

  • http://Karachi Sumaiya Lakhani

    Quite an interesting article. The causal relationship between the media giving the people what they want and at the same time affecting the mindset of the people is quite trciky to say the least. Recommend

  • Murtaza Ali Jafri

    Brilliant Piece Ali Syed! You have a firm grip on the true conundrum of the media industry. I look forward to seeing your appointment as Chief Editor of the Tribune. Recommend

  • Ghausia

    Well, you’re part of the media industry. Have you done any kinds of followups or pitched a new issue related to the floods to your superiors? I understand your point about redundancy of media, but followups don’t necessarily have to take place every day, even once a week is enough to remind the masses that the situation still exists and that people still need help. Surely or news channels can spare 2 or 3 minutes a week to cover an old story to remind people that the problem still exists?Recommend

  • maheen usmani

    Great blog. Suffice to say that our media and viewers have the attention span of a rabbit.Recommend

  • chill

    Ali…valid point..points actually….Airblue crash…black box will be found…will be…then it was….no follow up…no conclusion….its like a never ending movie….we break a story…continue while people seem to be interested…and until they are…there are follow ups….as soon as things start getting dry..we turn our faces and attention elsewhere….WE HAVE SHORT TERM MEMORY…Recommend

  • Ali

    Whatever happened to the black box recordings of the unfortunate airblue flight? Why has there been no follow-up regarding the actual causes of that crash? Many of us are still wondering what the truth was (or maybe i am more ignorant than i think?).
    And since the the coverage of that incident was so gruesome and inconsiderate, i wonder why no one in our electronic media felt the need to make up for it by reporting something that wasn’t based on hard-to-digest conspiracy theory crap.
    PITIABLE, i must say. Recommend