Late last month, a bomb ripped through a train station in a small town near Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province in southwestern Pakistan where I started my journalism career.
The loss was colossal: the blast killed eight people while maiming more than 25 others.
But it was no big news for Pakistani media. Instead, many Quetta newspapers gave more attention to the newly elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi addressing the crowd at the Tahrir Square – as if the bomb blast had happened all the way over in Cairo and Morsi had given the speech right there in Quetta.
It got me wondering why important local news events like this are almost invisible in Pakistani media. They’ll get a tiny story in the corner of the front page, while international news, like that of the Egyptian president, dominate the front pages of almost all Pakistani newspapers.
I had never really questioned this until I came to the U.S. in late 2010 and started to notice the contrast in journalism practices.
When I had newly come to Seattle, I found it strange how many local stories that would have been deemed not-so-newsworthy back in Pakistan would make it to the front page here.
Sports, for instance, make way bigger headlines here. So do arts and entertainment and human interest stories. Such stories, however, are almost irrelevant in a Pakistani newspaper with sports either having a single page or just a small portion depending on the size of the newspaper. Forget arts.
On the other hand, national and international politics are the bread and butter of Pakistani media. This excessive coverage of politics makes it no less than a sport, with heads of political parties issuing statements against their rivals on TV or in newspapers and airwaves and pages functioning as their playgrounds.
Despite the fact that newspapers are produced and consumed locally in Pakistan, they run an enormous number of stories about what’s happening across the Middle East, Afghanistan and the rest of the world, while setting pressing local issues aside.
As a result, many Pakistani citizens are quite knowledgeable about how politics in a foreign countries work, while failing to identify problems in their community that need urgent attention.
Journalism here in the US, I believe, caters to the needs and interest of the community. It’s about informing them about things they want to, and should, know about. From information about upcoming local events, to profiles of community members that appreciate their achievements or highlight their problems, this kind of journalism helps create an aware and knowledgeable community that can form opinions of their own.
In contrast, journalism that prioritizes international affairs over local issues have helped create a Pakistani society that is ill-informed about problems in their own country.
This coverage is also feeding negative sentiments against the U.S. and other Western countries, which are presented in a bad light in the media, rather than nurturing the nascent democratic process in Pakistan after decades of military rule.
I wish the media back home would do more to mirror good journalistic practices in the West. And here in Seattle, the next time I hear someone bemoaning how provincial their local news coverage is, I’ll remind them how lucky they are to have media that acknowledges and informs their local community.