Bad Editorial Judgment by MOHD. ZEYAUL HAQUE (JULY 12, 2007)

On July 11, almost all major English and Hindi dailies published from the national capital carried Islamabad Lal Masjid story as lead, some using prominent graphics, pictures and highlights. The display was so bold that it left little room for any news in the first (upper)half of the front page, except may be a “single column top”, as they say it.

This amounts to a disappointing display of bad editorial judgment because the same day as Pakistani security forces stormed the Lal Masjid and flushed the extremists out, a parallel incident took place in India itself that was more momentous than the Lal Masjid episode.

What had happened in India was just the reverse of it: Naxal rebels had mowed down 24 persons of an anti-insurgency force. The action took place in the Dantewada forest area of Chhattisgarh where the Naxals have conducted similar massacres in the past with impunity.

The murder of 24 security persons in the country generally got such poor display that it was easy to miss it in the excitement of what had happened in the neighbouring country. There was the marked difference that in Pakistan law and order machinery had reasserted control while in India the law and order machinery had got a terrible beating. The Indian security personnel made the incredible and unsubstantiated claim that they had shot down 20 Naxals. However, they failed to show even a single dead Naxal’s body to substantiate the claim.

The lopsided play given to the two stories breached a commonly accepted principle of news management, the principle of proximity, that says a major event in the country should get a far more prominent display in the newspaper than a similar event outside its borders. The editorial decision on the two news items shows a grand unconcern for where our country is headed. Today, Naxal violence has spread to one-fourth of India’s 600 districts, and the spread continues.

If we are more concerned about foreign news than developments within our borders we are only encouraging the spread of anarchy in our own home land. This is not just a breach of journalistic principles, but also of common sense.

Mohd. Zeyaul Haque


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