Media Effects on Public Opinion

The organization Pew Research Center released a new study last week based on a survey of Pakistanis about opinions on extremism, America, India, etc etc. While the report focuses primarily on attitudes towards America (not surprising since the survey company is American). Kalsoom posts a more nuanced read at Changing Up Pakistan! blog about attitudes around religion and law, but I think there is even more interesting information that is buried under the typical information about America.

One thing that struck me when reading the poll were what seemed to be cognitive disconnects between certain answers. For example, 68 percent have an unfavorable view of the US. But 64 percent also say it is important that relations improve between Pakistan and the US.

If 64 percent say that they want improved relations, one has to believe that they do not look unfavorably on the US out of some irrational hatred – rather, there must be a reason. But what is the reason?

One reason seems to be that people think the US favors India in foreign policy. According to the poll, only 13 percent say the US is fair when it comes to foreign policy toward India and Pakistan.

But it’s interesting to know that India is actually worried that US is too close a partner to Pakistan.

Dawn: India warns US against military aid to Pakistan

MSN News: India is losing out. Beware!

Express Tribune: India reiterates concern over US assistance to Pakistan

That’s not the only strange disconnect. When the Pew Research Center asked about US aid to Pakistan, 46 percent of people responded that US gives little to no aid to Pakistan.

But the reality is that US has pledged a huge amount of aid to Pakistan, much of which is going not for war or military efforts but to help civilians.

Associated Press of Pakistan: US announces $10 Million for flood relief assistance

The Seattle Times: Latest U.S. aid to Pakistan targets help for civilians

Foreign Policy: Exclusive: New details on Obama’s $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan

So there is the question – why is there this disconnect between how people perceive Pak-US relations and the reality of those relations? I think much of it comes from media distortions and misinformation.

We suffer from a media that is free, but running riot with right wing narratives, rumours, and wild conspiracy theories. Look at the awful distortions that are published, for one example, by The Nation. Reading such garbage, one is likely to believe that that the Americans are some monsters intent on invading Pakistan.

Much of the media seems much more intent on telling stories about American bogeymen than Taliban, resulting in the Americans having a similar rating (68 percent unfavorable) than Taliban (65 percent unfavorable).

What is clear is that people are war weary. We’re ready for the violence to end, and whether it is Americans or Talibs – we just want to be left alone. What is also clear is that there’s a lot of confusion about what the reality is. People get these ideas from somewhere, and the obvious place is media.

Dawn Blog today features a post by Themrise Khan that describes a major problem that infects our media, which is that people are not reporting facts, they are reporting opinions. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, everyone is not entitled to their own facts.

If we want this bloody war to end, which I believe we all do, we need to have a frank discussion grounded in reality. The war isn’t going to end with the wave of a magic wand, no matter how much Mosharraf Zaidi wants it. There are going to be some terms to the completion of the effort. And if we are determining what we want these terms to be with a false set of facts, we are likely to get an outcome we don’t want.

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