Information overload in Pakistani media: Case study of Sumbal Yasmin Jamali Abstract

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Information overload in Pakistani media: Case study of Sumbal

Yasmin Jamali


Media has always considered as important source of information. Media some time not only inform the public but develop opinion and consensus over certain issues. Media also ignore certain cases of same nature while ignore others as media did in Sumbal case. Information overload does not mean that media give lot of information but give repeated coverage to same issue. For this study content of print and electronic media was analyzed. Print media includes Nawa-i-Waqat and Express daily while electronic media includes Dunya and Geo news. Results showed that Sumbal and Samina’s case was of same nature but media give more coverage to Sumbal case. Pakistani media gave week coverage mostly on the top place to Sumbal case while on the other hand they give just one to two days coverage to Samina’s case. Pakistani media sometimes play irresponsible role, violate privacy of victims like in Sumbal case visuals were objectionable. Media most of time do this to fill the content but they must keep in media consequences of the content which is being broadcasted or published.

Problem statement:

This study aims to explore the excessive coverage of print and electronic media on rape of five year old girl Sumbal. The study also aims to explore the presentation of this particular case in print and electronic media.


Media play vital role in contemporary societies. Societies, like species need to reproduce to survive, same is case with the culture; culture cultivates attitudes and behaviors that predispose people to consent to establish ways of thoughts and conduct. Forms of the print or electronic media, like films, dramas, music, magazines and advertisements mould the ways of life (living styles). Media engage people to the practices which integrate them into established society. Every individual make meanings of content differently and often in paradoxical ways. (Keller and Durham: 2006)

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”(Philip K. Dick)

Media is called as the fourth pillar of society. It revolutionized society. It gives a new dimension to information. Television is now become a family member. It is considered as vehicle from where society gets information. Public consider media as the only source to get information. Media presentation of news attracts its viewers. Media is the face of society. Public is nationally and internationally predicted by the information broadcasted in the media (Hjarvard, 2008).

Media in Pakistan is always justified with the statement that “media is in its nascent stage” or we can say “media is immature”. Pakistan is on verge of crisis having social issues, economic crisis and most importantly terrorism. Present media in Pakistan is highlight issues without considering its impact. Media coverage over war on terror was and is always a debatable topic in Pakistani society. Media is unfortunately lagging behind their original values. Media can attract and direct attention any issue they want to in such a way that favor power and correlatively divert attention from rival individuals or groups (McQuail, 1976)

Media expended in recent years very quickly. Many electronic and print media outlets are operating. Due to some weak regulation policies media is much freer than it is required. Media give coverage of certain issues out of the way like terrorism, crime and rape issues etc. Griffin and Price (2004) argue that an independent and autonomous regulator without any control by the executive branch of government is desirable.

State of media in Pakistan

State of print media

Print media with the passage of time newspaper periodicals number increased but after 2008 it decreased. For example according to the data of provincial public relation department (2010), largest numbers of periodicals were in 2007 (1820) and then start decreasing and reach to 925 in 2010.

State of electronic media

According to PEMRA Annual report 2010 state of electronic media in Pakistan, there are total 85 Satellite TV channels, 103 FM commercial Radio channels and 24 non commercial FM Commercial stations.

As far as growth of Satellite TV is concerned, in 2003 there was only 4 Satellite Channels, while in 2007 its number increased to 17 in 2010 number reached to 14. Growth of Cable TV Channels over the time increased remarkably. In 2003 number was in 900 and in 2010 it increased to 2500. The number of Cable TV subscribers across Pakistan has increased sharply since 2004-05, which has touched the level of approximately, 6.2 million in 2009-2010.

FM Radio growth in Pakistan:

PEMRA has granted 138 FM Radio licenses out of which 114 licenses are commercial while 24 are non-commercial. Amongst the 114 commercial licenses 94 are operational while 20 are still non-operational, whereas out of 24 non-commercial licenses, 21 are operational. (PEMRA annual report 2010).

“National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS) in 2006-07 found that 32% households have a Radio set. It is believed that this ratio might be higher because the radio sets in pockets, mobiles, and vehicles usually remain uncounted”. (PEMRA annual report 2010)

Patterns of media content in Pakistan

Media patterns in contemporary times include violence, journalist’s value statement about political leaders, media making some one hero and someone zero. Violence includes coverage of blasts, bloody bodies, violence against women and rivalries of politicians. News media mostly broadcast stories of politicians, government, ministers, other government officials and political candidates. Government conflicts and disagreements is also a hot topic for media.

Representation and Women

Women are underrepresented in media and they are also portrayed in circumscribed and negative manner.

Women are often sexualized—typically by showing them in scanty or provocative clothing. Women are also subordinated in various ways, as indicated by their facial expressions, body positions, and other factors. Finally, they are shown in traditionally feminine (i.e., stereotyped) roles. Women are portrayed as nonprofessionals, homemakers, wives or parents, and sexual gatekeepers. Although the studies generally support these conclusions, some interesting moderating factors are identified, such as race. (Collins: 2011)

Women are represented in media mostly in stereotypical roles like women are always represented as nurse and male as doctor. Kalpper defines stereotyping as “stereotyping refer to things outside one’s social world, whereas social types refer to things with which one is familiar; stereotypes trend to be the conceived as functionless or dysfunctional, whereas social types serve the structure of society at many points” (Keller and Durham: 2006). Despite the program’s surface glamour and its apparent distance from the day to day lives make audiences or viewer to identify themselves with the character presented in the media (Ang: 1985).

“A recent development in television programs has been the integration of documentary and fiction formats into emergency shows in which real events are used in either through video or reconstruction as basis for the programs” (Curran and Gurecvitch, 1997).

Violence against women and media coverage

Violence against women refers collectively violent acts committed against women. Violence against women is burning issue in past and in contemporary times too. Every society has certain values media not only determines but change the way people perceive these values. Survey is conducted by the Global media monitoring project and women media watch of Jamaica, they find out that women are underrepresented in presents times also; 76% coverage is given to males and 24 to females.

On December 23, 2010, Daily 'Ummat' reported the news regarding the rape victim in the Defence, Karachi case in these words: “The victims of gang-rape in Defence disappeared mysteriously”.While Karachi Tribune, dealing with the same story, splashed the news item in bold letters, and reported that certain police officers continue to exhibit a biased attitude:

Yeh larkiyan Mukhtaran Mai nahi hain, yeh doosri maiyan hain. (These girls are not Mukhtaran Mai, they are other 'girls').

In Pakistani media sensationalism sells stories. Tragic incident of rape of a trainee nurse, media in this case zoomed in the face of girl (30 second video) but the oxygen mask save her face to be exposed. Arundhati Roy defined contemporary media as a 'crisis driven media'.

“In most of the television serials, women are portrayed either as helpless victims suffering silently or as tough and cunning; out to take revenge for their sufferings by resorting once again to violence. Hindi movies like „Pratighat‟ and „Anjaam‟, [„Khoon Bhari Maang‟] and more recently Bandit Queen‟ justifies revenge by women. An atmosphere is created wherein it seems justified that women should take up guns to fight their tormentors. All this, if followed in reality, would only lead to further crimes on women” (Srivastava & Agarwal, 2004).

“News is what newspaper makes it” (Gieber, 1964). The language use by journalist is occasionally biased, sensationalism and inaccuracy specially in case of female violence reporting. We don’t say journalist fake the news but they make the news (Curran and Gurecvitch, 1997).

“To say that a news story report is a story, no more, but no less, is not to demean news, nor to accuse it of being fictitious. Rather, it alerts us that news, like all public documents, is a constructed reality possessing its own internal validity (Tuchman, 1976).

Media other than sensationalizing news story create information overload. By giving extensive coverage to stories not required.

Information overload in media

Media is a powerful tool of communication. It aims to provide information to public about daily happening nationally and internationally. Media reflect what is happening in the society. Sometimes media print or electronic excessive coverage to the issues not required. It creates frustration among the member of a particular society and the public become desensitized. Bushman and Canto (2003) argues that the content of much entertainment media, and the marketing of those media combine to yield a powerful desensitization intervention on a global level. “Increasingly, as the abundance of information overwhelms us all, we need not simply more information, but people assimilate, understand, and make sense of it” (Duguid and Brown, 2000).

Politicians use media as a tool of propaganda. They propagate their message to the public as they want to through advertising or through the news. New media contain excessive political issues than others. Media coverage to political issues and ctitism is not for their own gain but it in turn benefit politicians because public opinion metters a lot for them. Media meaasges help to crate public opinion (Balkin, 1998). “By media politics, I mean a system of politics in which individual politicians seek to gain office, and conduct politics while in office, through communication that reaches citizens through the mass media”. (John Ziller, 1999).

During the time of election in 2013 in Pakistan, the media give excessive coverage to political campaigns. News along with current affairs was full of the debates about election and who will win. During this session of election coverage media predict results of the election before they came. Like in Geo TV Hamid Mir conduct special program on election from special election cell made for elections in Geo TV. He said that Imran Khan although getting majority but would not win elections, PML (N) won elections.Another hype created by the media is that they display final results before announcement of government in fact before the process of election ends that PML (N) won the election. Media broadcasted speech of PML (N) leader who was thanking their supporters. This also influences the results of election as said by analysts.

“In Pakistan, I listened to and read the media which go to an increasingly large part of the population. Apparently, the government, no matter how repressive it is, is willing to say to them that you have your fun; we are not going to bother you. So they don’t interfere with it.”(Noam Chomsky, 2013)

Pakistan is in verge of terrorist attacks. There is not a single day without now a day with a terrorist blast. Very few days back their was terrorist attack in church kills hundreds of people. Media give whole day coverage of this issue. Electronic media print media headlines were about only this issue. This excessive coverage of events and coverage of grief and sorrows of loved ones was totally unethical. After two day media suddenly wipe out this issue from news completely.

Media overload information on certain issues while they give little coverage to other issues. In the past time media give overloaded information about Veena Malik while gives almost nil coverage to flood effects. Media in Pakistan just picks an issue give excessive coverage than required, afterwards wipe out an issue without and constructive ending. In short, media communicate what the media want to communicate.

“The idea that there is too much information to hand, exacerbated by the multiple formats and channels available for its communication, has led to the concept of information overload, perhaps the most familiar of the “information pathologies”. Other consequences incluse conditions termed infobesity information avoidance, information anxiety and library anxiety. They may be understood in terms of a general “paradox of choice”( Bawden and Robinson)

This study has a particular focus on media coverage of social issues. Sumbal is 5 year old girl. On 12th of September 2013 media give coverage of unfortunate happening. Rape case of this little girl was becoming headline of electronic media leading channels. Media from 1:00 pm on 12 September till a week give repeated information about who she was brought to hospital about health and other legal proceedings. Media broadcasted CCTV camera footage about happening. Language use by the media in this issue was totally unbearable.

One of the TV channels takes interview of this classmate that how are you feeling? Will you go out of your home alone? Etc. Pakistani media after overloaded coverage of the issue for a week or so use this issue as filler as well. On 2nd October 2013 media headline was culprits of little girls are moving free, can’t arrest by police.

There is no news to fill the gap, Pakistani media broadcast social issue as a filler to fill gap. That's how the media bombards the public with the same issues, everywhere. Media of Pakistan broadcast news for ratings so that they can generate profit. One media channel or newspaper giving coverage to certain particular issue like Sumbal or Malala attack other media outlets do seem to get high ratings. Due becoming first to break news media forget values and ethics of news. Pakistani media inshort do what they want and follow own rules and regulations with considering impacts of it. This study is significant in this regard to explore that in real media is doing this or not.

Significance of study:

Media is a powerful tool to manipulate the minds of people. Media give information and educated public about new happenings around the world. Along with this media particularly in Pakistan is creating sensationalism. It bombards public with overloaded information, which is not required like one news, everywhere.

This study is significantly important for media outlets to reformulate policies about coverage of critical issues. This study explores how the media give coverage of certain issues in excessive which are not required at all. Media through this study may know that how much unintentionally we are creating hype.

This particular study is also important for public, because it gives awareness about the agenda of the media. What and how the issue is presented in news media is not what in reality many times. Media creates need want public to absorb what is broadcasted in news media. This study is significant for media regulating bodies like PEMRA to make policies in this regard.

Objective of study:

The main objective of this study is that how much excessive coverage media give critical issues to make them big ones. Some other objectives are as follows:

  • To find out that how much coverage media give to the Sumbal issue.

  • To ascertain that how to media present this case.

  • To explore that media create importance of a news item by the placement of it.

  • To explore that media cover some issue more than other of same nature

Research question and hypothesis:

Research Q 1: How much coverage do the media give to Sumbal case?

Research Q 2: How Sumbal Case was presented in the media?

Research Q 3: Where Sumbal Case news story was placed?

Research Q 4: Media cover some stories while ignores others of same nature?


H1: Media give constructive visuals on Sumbal Case

H2: Media use deconstructive language on Sumbal Case

H3: Media give coverage to certain issues while ignore other issues of same category

Literature Review:

Today we are living in an information age. Media is considered as the main source of information. The public is now bombarded with information from everywhere.

Information overload and coverage of war

War is the hot topic of media coverage. It is the critical issue, media policy makers always concerned about particular policies use for the coverage of the war. Eilders (2005) conduct research on war coverage of the 1991 Gulf war, the Kosovo war and the 2003 Iraq war. He examines that how these wars were reported, what were shortcomings of these war converges. According to him media only report just for the sake of reporting gives excessive coverage to obvious events rather in-depth coverage of the war.

Information overload in political issues

Politics has always been debate of media channels. In the prime time news, media gives extensive coverage to politicians and political news. Politics are like an entertaining celebrity for news. News media outlets sell their products through politician endorsement. Callaghan and Schnell (2001) conduct research on how the media frame political issues. According to this study politicians are always wanting to be in the news. They use a content analysis approach for analysis. This study find out that media some time own story they favor one side while lagging other side behind. Results find out that 25.7% coverage of prime times news allocated for the culture of violence. Politics also cover a large amount of prime time news.

“In particular, stories focusing on crime seem to fit journalistic standards nicely. They satisfy the criteria of event-oriented reporting, include drama, and usually provides stunning visuals. Thus, frames involving crime and violence are expected to be favoured by the media”. (Callaghan and Schnell, 2001)

McCombs and Shaw (1977) argued that the most important effect of the mass media was "its ability to mentally order and organize our world for us." The news media "may not be successful in telling us what to think”, "but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about”.

Social media and information overload

Social media or internet is modern innovation through which public use to communicate and to update themselves about surroundings and daily happenings. Every media outlet has their own online version. Every newspaper and TV channel gives information on their web pages. Now even web radios are available to inform the public who don’t have access through traditional media. Through all these innovation public is ever more informed than required.

Raoufi (2003) studied about information overload and how it could be avoided. According to this study it is personal choice of the individual to decide how much information he can get. By qualitative research approach he identifies nine factors that help individual to select what type of communication tool should be use for information. Once he decided to get information by social media, SMS, email etc it is up to the person to overload himself with excessive information or limit to get less information. Information overload is problematic according to Raoufi. Due to increase in technology leads to less control over the content. For this purpose he use qualitative (interview) technique because this was exploratory syudy. Heylighen (2002) conducted research on this aspect. He argues that easy ways of publication lead to information overload. According to this research media is now more technologies especially with the advent of the internet. The internet gives more freedom for publication of the story. For one issue is overloaded due to the easy way of publication it lessens control over the content of media. In short every citizen is a journalist now and so same news covered by many individual in different word but the same theme. According to Heylighen overloaded information effect economic productivity along with health.

Bawden, Robinson (2008) stated that information overload deals with too much information at hand. In his study it is also stated that due to innovation in technology, magazine, periodicals it is very difficult to keep up with the amount of information. The facts presented in the paper are “1) Weekly edition of the New York Times contain more information than the average person was likely to come into life time 2) More information has been created in the past 30 years than in previous 5,000 years 3) Number of documents on the internet is doubled from 400 million to 800 million from 1998 to 2000.

Information overload in media is considered as major issue by researchers. Lima and Peru (2010) argue that social media especially facebook news feed give low quality and dissatisfactory. Excessive information as a result control over quality is compromised. Lima and Peru use qualitative approach, conduct survey including interviews for data collection. Grounded theory was used in this research. This study has some inbuilt mistakes like in selection of theory and method of data collection. Results shows in research are that user itself is responsible of information overload.

Hargittai, Neuman and Curry (2012) conduct research on information overload through focus group discussion. Key founded themes were 1) Most of the people feel empowered due to more information 2) People easily avoid information with which they disagree. According to this research internet advent empower public as well as feel anxiety due to the bombardment of information by every media outlet.

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