Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another perspective on violence in the Pakistani electronic media

The perspective by many outside the media is that a lot of violence is shown on television; that seeing this has a negative psychological impact on its viewers and incites more violence in society. They therefore think that journalists are acting irresponsibly and should instead save the country now that they have become so powerful; they should in fact save the country by educating the masses.

I attended a debate on this topic where I gathered a perspective that is at 180 degrees to the argument above and that defends why violence in the media is sometimes justified.

I will mention this point wise below:
1. Perspective: Seeing violence has a negative psychological impact on its viewers and incites more violence

Another perspective
Case 1: A study was conducted that found that the amount of violence shown on television in Japan and the US is about the same but its impact on the youth is very different. In the US violence is done by the good guys to save the day – in a sense violence is glorified – while in Japanese television violence is perpetrated by the bad guys and is always commented upon as something negative. The latter perspective while acknowledging violence notes that it is a bad thing. This makes one think violence is bad.

Case 2: At the time of the “Small Eid” after Hajj there is a ritual sacrifice of animals performed by Muslims around the world in which animals are slaughtered. It is encouraged that the act of “cutting the jugular vein” of the animal be performed by the owner and not by a hired butcher. Children are almost always witnesses to this act whenever they are present. Those who are not Muslims will find this act barbaric and even traumatic but those who have been raised as Muslims rarely if ever think of it as traumatic! Many feel that the act of sacrificing an animal to God is very noble because it requires that one spend their hard earned money buying the animal and distributing its meat to the poor many of whom don’t have an opportunity to eat meat throughout the year. This sacrifice doesn’t incite one to be violent in fact for many it becomes a very mundane act.

Case 3: “Zanjeer ka matam among the shias”. Shiite Muslims who perform this kind of matam view it positively in a way that is perhaps hard for non-shiite Muslims to relate to.

Conclusion: If violence is shown on the media in a way that doesn’t glorify murder but sympathizes with the victims of the attack the impact and therefore the results will be different.

2. Perspective: The media in Pakistan has become very powerful
Another perspective: The media is one institution of the society. On its own it can hardly bring about change. If the schools, hospitals, governments, lawyers, etc are not performing their function there is not much that the media can do. In fact in a society of uneducated people with a very weak intellectual framework and high intolerance the media is in fact quite powerless.

3. Perspective: The media should educate the masses about violence.
Another perspective: It is in the nature of the media to “communicate” and not to “educate”. Even this act of communicating is always disturbing because it wakens you up to a reality you didn’t know existed but it is the responsibility of the media to perform this act of “communication”.

Finally another fact that I discovered from the debate was that there is a lot of violence in Pakistan such as domestic violence, to assassination attempts, suicide bombings, violence and rape on the streets, violence involving forcing children to come on the streets and ask for money, etc.

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