Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I Opened The News, And It Was Yellow

When you have four stories on one patently manufactured 'issue' carried by a newspaper in five days, you can safely consider it an object lesson in how to conduct a witch-hunt.

The News' City pages May 3, 2012

In the first story, titled 'City's elite schools say no to national anthem' published in the city pages of The News on May 3, 2012, reporter Sidrah Roghay wrote that several "elite" schools in Karachi had discontinued the tradition of singing the Pakistani national anthem during morning assembly "calling it a waste of time and energy."

She went on to imply that "regulatory authorities" were complicit in this "dismal" state of affairs, because of the schools' "influence and connections." The schools, we were told, catered mostly to the "elite, upper-middle class and middle class families." The battle lines between 'us' and 'them' being drawn, Ms Roghay and the city editor (who presumably helped commission this near flawless incitement to class resentment and hyper-patriotism), went on to helpfully pin the tail on the donkey. With a staple gun.

A vice principal of Bayview High School was quoted as saying the national anthem was sung only once a week because "it takes too long, and wastes time that can be used in the class constructively."

The reader's take home is, this person, this school, thinks singing the national anthem is a waste of time.

An anonymous school head is then quoted mouthing the words to really get the dander up of all Pakistani and linguistic patriots:
“I do not ask students to sing the national anthem: firstly, because it is in Urdu; secondly, I do not believe in national cohesion. What purpose does the national anthem serve? Students should be engaged in more meaningful activities.”

The reader's take home is, what a jerk!

Further on, for those horses who are reluctant to drink:
"The principal’s obvious disdain for the national language and anthem underlines the fundamental crisis of Pakistan’s education system which remains divided not just on the [sic] class basis, but also on the [sic] ideological grounds."

And in the rub down stage, we have quotes from a collection of impressively titled talking heads that subtly conflate the frequency with which a student sings the national anthem with the depth of their patriotism.

After the first article, there was radio silence for a day as the article did the rounds, eliciting the predictable outraged how dare these people think the national anthem should not be sung! from people who either a) read it; b) read about it on someone's Facebook wall or Twitter feed; or c) heard about it during a lull in conversation at a gathering (such as the provincial assembly).

The News' City pages May 5, 2012

Then, on Saturday May 5th, The News carried two follow up stories. The first, titled 'Elite schools' defiance over national anthem stirs debate in PA' by reporter Imtiaz Ali, began with a paragraph saying that Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq had taken serious notice of the paper's report that some of the "elite" schools in Karachi had "banned" the singing of the national anthem.

The minister went on to express his "displeasure" at the schools, and said that such an attitude "made a joke of national identity."

Three schools were named in a sentence that said they had either "totally scrapped the tradition of singing the national anthem or do it only once a week." No further details were provided about which of them had done the former or the latter. No details at all were provided about the frequency of the singing of the national anthem in government schools, madrassas, or the private school equivalent of an alternative to an "elite" school. But...
"The report came as a shock for many senior educationists, parents and students. They expressed concern over the banning of the national anthem at these institutions, which follow the Cambridge system of education, and asked the government to intervene. The minister said the Directorate of Private Schools had been directed to take strict action against these schools, saying that they considered themselves above the law."

An MQM minister is then reported to have suggested that the Sindh Assembly pass a resolution making the singing of the national anthem mandatory at all schools, including the ones "affiliated with a foreign system of education."

The third story, titled 'Schools served with notices' detailed how the Directorate of Private School Institution Sindh (DPIS) had on Friday sent notices to some of the leading private schools which had "barred" the singing of national anthem at their morning assemblies. The heads of the schools mentioned in the initial report - bar one - and some others that traditionally come under the 'elite' banner, met with the DPIS:

"Representatives of most of these schools said that they follow the tradition of national anthem at their assemblies. Meanwhile, Khalid Shah, chairman All Pakistan Private Schools Management Associations Sindh, promised an inquiry regarding the issue, saying that the registration of those schools, which refuse to follow the tradition [italics added] of national anthem, would be cancelled."

Two days later, on Monday May 7th, a further story appeared by Fasahat Mohiuddin under the subheading "Discarding the National Anthem", detailing how various political parties had jumped into the fray and wanted urgent "action against the schools." The PPP minister for local bodies, Agha Siraj Durrani said "Our party will never allow such practice to go unchecked." The MQM's Coordination Committee's Waseem Aftab said his party "strongly condemned the act of dropping the national anthem by a handful of elite schools." The PMLN Sindh President Ghous Ali Shah "demanded action" and "asked for an 'investigation' of how these institutions had been allowed to get away with it for such a long time." The PMLQ's Halim Adil Sheikh "demanded that the government should penalise all such schools." The Jamaat-e-Islami, the Sunni Tehrik and Jafferia Alliance reps expressed similar shock and outrage. The reporter noted:

"There appears a strong, but rare consensus among all the political and religious parties that some of those private schools, which teach the Cambridge system of education, should not be allowed to flout the country's traditions."

The News' City pages May 7, 2012

I do not wish to get into the issue of whether singing the national anthem makes someone more or less patriotic (though many of the people dubbed threats to Pakistan by the same political parties mentioned above sing the anthem the loudest). Or whether making a herd of sleepy kids mouth lyrics they often don't understand five times a week instead of once a week is the most productive use of their time in school. Let's just say I too have been moved by the melody of the Land of the Pure, and I too understand why Sesame Street has a character dubbed a grouch. But I do want to comment on the kind of yellow journalism that characterizes these reports:

1) The facts are that the national anthem is sung and taught at all schools in Pakistan, just not always every single day. After these loaded stories, a lot of people now think the anthem is not sung at all. But far more importantly, in a country where the illiteracy rate is easily above 50%,  where the vast majority of children drop out of school before reaching the 6th grade, where there are more children out of school than the entire population of Australia, where 50% of children between the ages of 6-16 who are in school cannot read a single sentence in any language, where less than 1.5% of the GDP is allocated to education (and even that is not fully spent), where just 39% of schools have electricity connections, and where  the average teacher is missing from school one day every week, THIS is what The News believes is the most pressing issue to take up and run as a campaign?!? (For more shocking figures see Education Emergency.)

2) Note the subtle, intelligent manipulation of language in such propaganda, which is perhaps the only time you see subtle, intelligent manipulation of anything in newsprint these days. The four stories consistently claim the anthem has been 'banned' or 'barred' or 'dropped' or 'scrapped' or 'discarded' in the schools they name, and perhaps others, and that is blatantly false, even going by the stories themselves. You'd have to be a real idiot to 'ban' the national anthem anywhere in Pakistan (and how would that even work?). Furthermore, the fact that a parliamentarian floated a resolution calling for the singing of the national anthem to be made mandatory in schools clearly establishes that there exists no such law in the first place. Even if a school head (from Mars) decided a full assembly with the raising of the flag and the national anthem was best done once a week, he/she would not be breaking any laws. Most people keep referring to the "tradition" of singing the anthem, which also shows there is no law mandating the singing of the anthem. (Incidentally it's also a tradition in Pakistan to provide bad education but nobody wants to harp on that.) Yet, note, in story two, we have a reference to how the 'elite' schools considered themselves "above the law." The editors of The News probably also don't even know that parliamentary resolutions are not laws and are not binding. Then, there is the consistent raising of the 'elite' flag, and the equation of private schools with the elite. Had the reporters and editors of The News done a little bit of real research, they would know that more than half of all urban children in Pakistan attend private schools.

3) The statement most guaranteed to raise hackles, "I do not believe in national cohesion", is attributed to an 'anonymous' source. We have no way of knowing if this is actually a real quote or a bit of spice thrown in by the reporter. If someone is unwilling to own up to what is clearly a provocative statement, why include it? What's next for The News' city pages? "A non-Muslim, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 'I do not believe Muhammed was the last prophet"? Why cross the line between reportage and sensationalism? This bring me to…

4) Motive. What beef does The News, or the editors who have okayed these stories (reasonable to assume since more than one reporter has been assigned this particular story) have with these particular schools? Until they can provide us with more fire than smoke, we're going to have to assume this was simply a case of a child or relative refused admittance or employment.

And we're not going to talk about where Mir Shakilur Rehman's children went to school and college.

I shudder to think what all this says about the issues that will power upcoming electoral pleas. The city pages, more than the oped pages (and definitely more than the lifestyle pages) often act as remoras to the sharks apt to surface in the speeches of the coming year. The rhetoric employed in this campaign against certain private schools "which follow the Cambridge system of education" (note the frequency with which two pop up in the first three stories) is reminiscent of that employed by Imran Khan in his magnum opus I Know What You Did Last Summer (But Let's Not Talk About What I Did Because That's So Last Summer). Now that we have decided we don't like America, are we going to be told we don't like anything foreign at all? Shall we be asked to say goodbye to pants, guitars and any kind of learning focussed on inculcating critical thinking rather than rote learning? If we refuse, will we be told we are not Pakistani enough?

 I hope not. Because I have always hated the Indian toilet.


Anonymous said...

I went to a Lahore School run (unofficially) by JI. The assembly (and) anthem policy changed many times during my 5 years, ranging from everyday to once a week, per classroom to school-wide. Whatever made sense given the weather and school timings. That was late 90's and I never thought it was a real problem for some until I read this piece today!

Yo Mista said...

Well said!

Sohail Ahmed said...

MSS, Another funny post from Geo Tv.


Saad Rehman said...

A brilliant article! I was reading and after every paragraph, I thought to myself: what an analysis man, whattay!

But the last line kinda spoiled it for me.

Now that we have decided we don't like America, are we going to be told we don't like anything foreign at all? Shall we be asked to say goodbye to pants, guitars and any kind of learning focussed on inculcating critical thinking rather than rote learning? If we refuse, will we be told we are not Pakistani enough?

You mean to imply the critical thinking is a foreign skill and there's nothing Pakistani (South Asia, desi, or use any other word that separates 'us' form 'them') -- which is Very sad man! I mean I know what you mean, Cambridge system is focused to critical thinking and Pakistani Boards aren't. And that's agreed to. But don't make 'foreigners' the owners of critical thinking.

Farwa B Naqvi said...

I read these reports and even I felt upset about the issue raised. Still I don't think it's such a huge story to be published on main city page. Excellent analysis and very well-written.

sana said...

the jang group should do a survey of the govt schools in the province and get back to me on how many even have a morning assembly. ridiculous reporting.

Tribot said...

I dont understand the obsession that the news has with the word 'elite' or rich people. Good post cafe pyala, it is time we highlight such half baked stories with no research and making an issue of no real issue. Is singing national anthem the last thing that our education sector needs to prosper? The news always has an agenda to follow and these stories have proved that.

Paknama said...

Amazingly well-written and analyzed.

The level of bias, the prioritization of issues, the subtle undertones ... it's just shocking and depressing.

Anonymous said...

To add to the gist of your argument: one of the schools mentioned in The News article has published a response which categorically states that an official of the school has been misquoted, and that the school has been misrepresented.
See: www.bayviewhigh.com

Elitist said...

The News should first look into the shocking number of schools where there are no studies at all, let alone education. But that, I guess, does not serve their purpose of selling their paper.

Amjad Khan said...

So after some investigating it turns out that no "notices" were given to any schools just that members of the education department attended a morning assembly at some schools - nothing further.

It also turns out that the schools mentioned are now getting bomb and shooting threats and parents are afraid to send their children in. So what did this achieve? Now 3 schools that were imparting an education (and incidentally in some cases saying the national anthem) have to give students a holiday. :S got to love our society and the press for knowing how to rile them up.

Saad Durrani said...

This perhaps is one of the crappiest written things of the year. The anthem takes 80 seconds. Tongues won't break if children will recite it daily.

Admin (Rhodene Academy) said...

An excellent analysis and a great read. However, let me give you an insiders view on the story. I represent one of the schools who's name was bandied about in the articles by The News. Furthermore, Sidrah Roghay, the reporter took to social media sites to promote her articles. The first time we realised that something was amiss was when we started receiving threatening emails from "pakistanis" gullible enough to have been taken in by the "lies" spouted by The News.

I'm not going to go into the merits of whether it is patriotic or not to sing the national anthem. I'll stick to the FACTS. Which are:

Rhodene Academy (www.rhodene.edu.pk) was never contacted at any time by the reporter or anyone else from The News. No attempt was made to confirm the story or obtain a denial from Rhodene Academy. WE contacted The News and spoke to the City Editor. He gave us the personal cellphone number for the reporter and also assured us that he would look into the matter and get back to us. Sidrah Roghay was contacted and she said would arrange a meeting the next day at the school; however, stories continued to appear in The News. When contacted again, The City Editor apologised and assured us that no further stories would be published by The News. Sidrah Roghay never turned up for the meeting and she subsequently refused to answer our calls. When we did manage to get a hold of her eventually, she asked us not to contact her again. The City Editor was told in no uncertain terms that unless we received a satisfactory response from The News, we would instruct our legal advisors to take action against all parties concerned. Within minutes we had a call back from their recently appointed Editor, who once again apologised for the story and assured us that appropriate action would be taken. Apparently a meeting with the reporter was scheduled for last Friday evening to deal with the issue.

Since then, Sidrah Roghay (@roghay) has hidden her profile photo on Twitter. Her friends who had helped promote her articles have gone silent, as has Sidrah herself. A sign of a guilty conscience perhaps? She stated that two of Rhodene Academy's teachers had told her on the condition of anonymity that the national anthem had been banned at our school. Our teachers were absolutely outraged at this blatant lie and were ready to confront her; however, Ms Roghay said that she had to protect her sources and could not divulge their names!

Rhodene Academy has NOT been contacted by any governmental department. We have NOT been served with any notices. Rhodene Academy did NOT attend any meeting of "elite" schools to discuss the matter, as NO SUCH MEETING TOOK PLACE!

Despite being branded an "elite" school, we have a fantastic scholarship program which entitles deserving children from all walks of life to join us. Over 25% of our students join us with a scholarship in place!

These are the FACTS. For the record, the national anthem is sung every morning during assembly at Rhodene Academy because in our opinion, it helps to build character and a sense of national pride in our children. It is also sung before any of our school functions begin. We are foreigners in Pakistan and we know the national anthem word-for-word. Hardly surprising having sung it every day with all of our students over the years!

This story has been jumped on by people in privileged positions who should know better. Some of the political figures who have commented on it should ask children within their own families as to what the truth is because they attend the schools who's names were mentioned in the article.

But then again what's truth got to do with what's reported in the media? Why let facts get in the way of a good story?

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