Is The Express Tribune a government mouthpiece?

Published: October 30, 2011

As a desk editor I have shouted and screamed, begged and pleaded with the sub-editors and reporters to write for the reader, in language that they use and understand

Do you know what a PC-1 is? Or a summary? Or the facilitation of the upgradation of the basic health unit?

This is how our newspapers sound because this is the language bureaucrats and politicians use. And because our reporters are by and large getting their news stories from these people, they end up using the same dusty language. As a result, what the reader gets is ’employment opportunities’ instead of jobs, ‘concerned authorities’ and ‘authorities concerned’.

As a desk editor I have shouted and screamed, begged and pleaded with the sub-editors and reporters to write for the reader, in language that they use and understand. But the LERP, DCO, DDO, XEN, SHCBA, SCBA, TNSM keep invading the page with their cryptic symbolism.

I argue that no one has the time or energy to figure out such long-winded ohdas or titles. And no one cares for the ‘high-level’ meetings at CM House. I mean, have you ever heard of Qaim Ali Shah holding a low-level meeting? I’m tired of hearing of ministers taking ‘strict notice’ and ordering ‘strict action‘. Are they schoolteachers who will put us in a corner because we’re naughty children? Do I deserve a smack on the bottom and will an Additional Inspector General of Police, who is a PSP officer, respectfully administer it to my humbly accepting derrière?

The language dilemma persists largely because reporters have a propensity to only source their reports from the government. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the numbers from the Karachi city sections of Dawn, The News and The Express Tribune.

On October 28, Friday, I sat down to compare their stories. And before anyone tries to accuse me of bias, let me start with my own pages, 13, 14, 15 in The Express Tribune’s Karachi edition.

We had 13 stories (excluding briefs). Except for 3, all of them were entirely based on information provided by officials, government representatives or the police.

In Dawn’s Karachi pages there were 20 stories. Except for 2 stories that were based on NGO experts, all of them were entirely based on what officials, government representatives, politicians and police said. (Additionally I noticed that in Dawn, with the exception of two stories, they do not use direct quotes at all, but entirely paraphrase. The Express Tribune and The News use more direct quotes).

In The News’s Karachi pages there were 27 stories. Except for 5 stories, all of them relied on the same group of informants.

Information does flow top down – that is from government to the media to the people. But surely we should all be doing the kind of journalism that draws information from the people who are affected, the people who need to be better informed about the world around them, their cities, towns, schools.

What about the bottom-up reporting?


Mahim Maher

A journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has worked as the city editor at The Express Tribune and Daily Times, and now writes long form investigative and explanatory pieces on Karachi’s civic and urban infrastructure with a focus on transport, public spaces and water.

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

  • Sarah B. Haider

    Agreed. You are targeting the masses and they need to understand in order to stay informed.Recommend

  • Majid Urrehman
  • Aamir Saeed

    Agree with your point ………………. let’s hope for the best. Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Great point. And usually we know our officials are speaking with forked tongues, especially considering their past, present and future actions. A bad idea for the media to be economical with their story with simply quoting such officials without giving more observations, background, critical analysis, etc.

    This decade has been as much about semantics warfare as it has about anything else.

    To know how to control the narrative is part of the package. Play with words, saying something you don’t mean and other subtle tools of deception are employed and propagated.

    To obfuscate the masses truly is an art.

    A Point of View: Why euphemism is integral to modern warfareRecommend

  • Adil Mulki

    Now that’s what I call a blog post.
    Really glad to see this here… must confess… a bit surprised too! :)
    I think you should seriously consider posting more frequently.Recommend


    ET don’t have any right to earn hypes of money ? Crazy ManRecommend

  • Siddiqui

    these findings are hardly significant…
    i suggest you get a statistician-cum-programmer-cum-linguist, preferably a student internee…
    ask him to write some small program to do the same for a duration of at least a month…
    perhaps u can include foreign sources for comparison as well…
    right now your findings are too shallow to be conclusive or of any productive use…Recommend

  • http://NA the Skunk

    Nice, very nice. Keep it going the right way and the readers will continue to appreciate and laud your courage. Hoping you will give the editors a piece of what is right and wrong because at the end of the day only the sensible will beat their brains on it. Fewer still will act to make it better. Salams to you.Recommend

  • KNT

    Mahim, you must qualify that you are referring to the English-language press in Pakistan. Indeed, those are the only newspapers you have quoted in your comparisons. Most of the (literate) masses, as we love to call them, read the Urdu press. Maybe you should do an analysis of that to see where the press really stands. I am sure their readers also deserve (in fact even more so) to receive information in a language that they can understand. Recommend

  • Mahim Maher

    Dear KNT and Siddiqui, thank you for your feedback. I wish I had more time to properly analyse the content on a macro scale in order to prevent a slide into obfuscation. There are a lot of things we need to be doing. But yes, I’ll be working on these suggestions long term. MMRecommend

  • Anthony Permal

    Mahim, I like your post and agree with most of it, however what is your short-term solution? Since you are with Express Tribune, where are you going to start? Recommend

  • A

    Mahim, interesting point of view. And that’s what journalism is all about. Though, i think many people in Pakistan rather hear what an official said than a layman on the street. that’s how things roll here. sad but true. Recommend

  • Shahid

    What the hell is a “PSP officer”, can you be a bit simple :)))Recommend

  • Parvez

    Your title, to me, is misleading. To me it conveyed the question that ‘ Is ET an instrument to further government propaganda and dis-information, ‘ a somewhat sinister accusation.
    Reading the article which I thought was really good, I realised your focus was elsewhere.
    One classic example, you missed, that regularly turns up in the media is ‘ The President (PM, CJ, CM’s, etc) has taken notice of so-and-so incident ‘ – what on earth does that really mean ??Recommend

  • KNT

    Appreciate your positive response Mahim. Its very rare that writers actually respond to comments online :-) And it was meant to be constructive so glad you received it as such. good luck!Recommend

  • Mahim Maher

    My headline was a question meant to start a debate. If we’re cleaning house and improving we have to start in our own backyard. I am alarmed at how we only sometimes rely on officials. Each day I push reporters to actually speak to people. It’s a daily fight for them and the desk editors to try our best to get the most accurate information from the people who need and should be commenting on situations. As for ‘taking notice’ is concerned, it’s a load of donkey potty each time I see it, if you’ll excuse the language. I’d like to strip each story bare of the governmentspeak. I’m sick of it. Recommend

  • Madeeha

    it’s like bottom-up development. takes too much effort – especially if no one’s asking questions.Recommend

  • Hina Zulfiqar

    Since the writer herself is the editor, she should not have written this because it is telling her story. Their is a policy of every newspaper and I hope Tribune also has one (does not seem anywhere after this blog but still exists).

    Secondly, you should have not compared your paper with Dawn atleast because they are not in the run to win like Tribune and now The news is(trying to become Express Tribune).

    I am a regular reader of all the three news papers and found out Dawn best among all and the reason is they don’t mess with mess words unlike Tribune. They don’t give a Damn if they get a advertisement or not like Tribune and The News Do.

    Either your reporters are dumb or you don’t have desk who has command over the news happening or you are bound to report all the mummy daddy news mostly so they elite can say ‘ wow! mama see, the road i was talking about last night is on the tribune and see how beatifully they have drawn the sketch of it by playing with the words but why sheh! what is this in between…. ooo .. am not getting it” leave it lets read Dawn online… yead! see they have everything in it from the road walah to the people who suffered not just why CBC and DHA did this and how much spent and what will be it impact.
    I hope this is enough for the editor to come over her fantasy and try to make the city pages look like city pages not magazine..Recommend

  • A.Khan

    Very good article. Nice to mention about the language issue.
    I found Dawn better than all of them. It takes its time to verify the story and publish it in a more appropriate way. I would never suggest my children to go through main page of Express Tribune. It destroys the peace of mind in the morning.Recommend

  • SK

    @Hina Zulfiqar:
    You are Talat Aslam or some old dude from Dawn trying to save face. You Rock Mahim…Recommend

  • hassan

    It is easily to blame reporters that they are government mouthpiece. What a report can do when a desk in-charge asks him/her to dig out the information about devolution process of different departments, reshuffling in cabinet, budget proposals, clashes between CM and his ministers as well as development funds seized city government.
    In this situation what reports should do. I think prime source of reporter is concerned government officials. What can he/she do in this situation, if reporters express reluctance to peruse the story these desk in-charge (city editors/news editors) push them to get inside information from government officials who most of the time prefers to remain tight-lipped. If a report fails to bring the facts and story is run by another newspaper the city editors become irritate. Times is very important the desk always considers the reporter as “magicians” who according to them can do everything within minutes. Every reporter cannot cover all aspects of the story within minutes as always expect their desk in-charge.
    Besides, the reports are not free to work. They are asked to file the stories of CM, president, prime minister, city nazim, chief secretary as well as information ministers. Explanation is issued to those reporters who fail to cover the activities of these gentlemen (public office holders) and “government mouthpieces” is considered to those who follow the instruction. It has really wondered me. I suggest to get rid of government beat. Recommend

  • Muhammad Ibtesam

    When a reporter tries to report an investigative story instead of covering a high-level meeting at CM House, the desk editor scold him for missing a routine story. This thing happens at the desks of all major newspapers.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Mahim Maher: Your enthusiasm for improvement is what any good organisation needs. I read the Dawn newsprint because ………. but a lawyer friend of mine casually asked me to check out ET on the net and I curse him for that because I’m pretty much hooked. You’ll do a great job.Recommend

  • Bilal

    For some weird reason, I am turned on by this article; or maybe it’s the writer’s casual mention of “smack on the bottom” and her “accepting derrière”. I think Express Tribune is doing fine and the readers get what they want.. if they can read past the amatory language. Loved your piece!Recommend

  • Siddiqui

    @Mahim Maher:
    I only suggested a proper analysis because your objective looks promising and we need to create a contact between the industry and academia which has been severed for far too long.Recommend

  • yousaf

    After the bill is passed,making it obligatory for reporters to declare the source of their information,all the newspapers will become government mouthpieces. Recommend

  • rehmat

    @Mahim Maher:
    ” It’s a daily fight for them and the desk editors to try our best to get the most accurate information from the people who need and should be commenting on situations”.

    Perhaps you shoudl review their goals. If the number of joirnalists are less compared to the number of stories needed to be published daily, goals will be established accordingly. If someone is required to publish a story daily, they may not have the bandwidth to actually step out an talk to people.Recommend

  • Mahim Maher

    Thanks SK. And there is no rule that editors shouldn’t comment or be upfront about their work. All major newspapers do it, especially abroad. How is being open and honest not kosher for a desk editor?
    And as for people who prefer Dawn, I completely understand that. They like the way Dawn sounds and that’s their right. I don’t have to like the way Dawn sounds. Koi zabardasti nahi he, if you know what I mean.
    And as for advertisements, has anyone ever noticed how certain newspapers get more government ads than others? It is not as simple an equation as some people think. Dawn is also as old as Pakistan, and we are a newer paper.
    In the end, what is preferable is for Pakistanis to have a choice between as many newspapers as possible. That way they can make a more informed decision on any matter. Does it serve anyone to have just one newspaper? What if there was just Dawn and no other newspaper? Would people be getting the full picture? I doubt it. The media is here to serve the people.
    And as for the people who get personal in their criticism, all I can say is that if you don’t like The Express Tribune, then why bother visiting the site to comment on its blogs? Recommend

  • yousaf

    This “readers comments”thing launched by ET is quite a wonderful way of doing journalism.May be in other countries this is an old practice but here it is a pleasant change for readers to read a news or article and then if deemed fit a comment can be passed by them.Of other things the diversity of opinions on a certain article(some-times very harsh tone of disagreement)has taught me a great lesson i,e. humility.I now know the true meanings of the saying that”jitne mooh utni baaten”and most of the times people fight simply because they are unable to grasp what the other is saying even though they are in full agreement with each other.@MM,a piece of advice if I may,if you kept explaining your writes the way you are doing,you will soon get tired but “they”wont!! Recommend

  • Saad

    “naughty children” – i like the sound of that!Recommend

  • Omar

    Agreed. The sad fact is that by doing so I admit most of the literate people capable of reading the news in the English language are quite ignorant.Recommend

  • Sceptic

    I liked your article, but yes it would have been better if the author wasn’t actually the sub-editor from Express Tribune. I agree with you, top down reporting does take the objectivity out of journalism – which really is a sham of a concept.

    I read both papers, Dawn and Express. Not the News, I find the print quality quite horrid.

    Dawn has a very official air in its news, it is like the complete resource of everything going on, it seems to rely on substance more than style.

    Express Tribune has the whole style thing going for it, it looks good and makes you want to read it.

    IF we could combine the two….Because right now its as if DAWN is The Economist and Express Tribune is CosmoRecommend

  • imran sahil

    i say it real journalism,becuase news is based on source,if the source is actual victimised person than its called complete news,i found the way and style of express tribune is deffrent from dawn, i think the policy of dawn is lying upon authorterian theory thats why they quote mostly authority as source,but express tribune qoutes victimised persons,its a good start but need more changes.Recommend