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Challenging Cultural Biases in Pakistani Media

Radio Mashaal journalist Daud Khattak
Radio Mashaal journalist Daud Khattak
Daud Khattak, Senior Editor of RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, convened with prominent journalists, ambassadors, and foreign policy experts from Pakistan and the U.S. for a series of conferences to discuss the progress and setbacks of Pakistani journalists and the portrayal of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in the media.

The Pakistan-U.S. Leadership Forum on Media and Culture conference held June 17-19 was followed on June 20 by a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. entitled “Pakistani Media and Views on Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Religion, and Society.”

“Pakistani media is in an evolutionary stage,” Khattak said at the Heritage Foundation event, noting that there are negatives and positives for a press emerging in a new democracy.

Pakistani media has been accused of being a platform for militant organizations, conspiracy theories, and sensationalism in an effort to secure high-ratings, disparaging the U.S. along the way.

“A key reason for the misperception about the U.S. among the Pakistani public is that the local media in Pakistan is playing to public sentiments,” Khattak said, acknowledging that the press, facing severe financial and security challenges, panders to popular opinion to secure viewers and avoid harassment.

Khattak said that the Pakistani media is not alone in distorting the image of another country, and charges that American media has muddled the portrayal of Pakistanis. “The image that I am seeing from the American media is that every tribesman living in Pakistan is anti-America and he is holding a gun and he is ready to fight – and that is not the case,” he said.

Khattak found that participants at the leadership conference agreed that American-Pakistani partnerships in media and culture are crucial in overcoming these biases. Radio Mashaal, one of the only news sources reaching tribal areas, was praised for its reliable reporting. Former Pakistan Information Minister Javid Jabbar, Express Tribune editor Muhammad Ziauddin, social worker and human rights activist Samar Minallah, and singer Zeb Bangash, all invited Khattak and Radio Mashaal to work with them to improve cross-cultural perceptions in the media.

-- Kate Leisner