Monday, March 5, 2012

The Fallacies of Pakistani Media

The electronic media has played an important role at critical junctures in Pakistan's development. It's role in the earthquake campaign, flood relief campaign, judicial movement, activism  on Hudood Laws (Sharia Laws implemented by Gen. Zia ul Haq), and as a government watchdog are highly appreciably.

Major media groups in Pakistan
With all its good endeavours, Pakistan's media hasn't develop an healthy culture of political analysis. It mostly survives on the basis of creating political bewilderments and misperceptions. From every confusion stems out another confusion, and as a result no constructive debate takes place.

The media also lends support to anti-state and extremists organization which are detrimental to the state of Pakistan. We see the media reporting the Defa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) rallies, which in fact is against the very ideological basis of the founding father of this country. Advertising such rallies might generate more orthodox viewers and might also develop an unending series of 'media chatter', but such media propaganda undermines the liberal political order of the country. The media creates confusion on the question of whether Pakistan is a nation-state or world-wide political movement (see: Ongoing History of Pakistan). This confusion bubble develops till the time a new confusion is found, and the cycle goes on.

A recent day-long colloquial at SZABIST (Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology) makes a point that media has stimulated a culture of pseudo-science. Rahat Kazmi aptly remarked:
" While the media rarely created social change, it did reinforce pseudo-scientific ideologies and beliefs that had served to undermine civil society in Pakistan."

The political talk shows are of poor quality. There is a lack of research, uses of whims, misinformation of the anchorperson, personal biases, and an ocean of rhetoric. This sums up the political talk show culture in the country.

The arguments presented by the anchors and their guests are full of argumentative fallacies. We are going to explore the various kinds of fallacies which have became so well-grounded that no one dares to question them.

The Nizkor Project defines fallacy as 'an error in reasoning'. The Encarta dictionary defines it as 'a mistaken belief or an idea'. Fallacies are of different types, i.e. inductive fallacy, factual fallacy, and deductive fallacy. There are in toto 42 argumentative fallacies compiled by the Nizkor Project. Many of them apply to Pakistani media. An exploration would help us in deciphering facts from fiction.

It is the responsibility of media persons to minimize fallacious logics so that an healthy analysis could talk place.

Some of the fallacies are:

1. Argumentum Ad Hominem
"An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument."
This sort of fallacy in commonly made - unconsciously - by Pakistani politicians. For example, PML- N leaders don't like answering President Musharraf's remarks. Similarly, Imran Khan vis-a-vis Altaf Hussain. Mr. Khan rejects Mr. Hussain's logic simply because of his personal prejudice. The clergy also repeatdly makes use of this sort this fallacy when they criticise different sects of Islam.

"I am going to file cases against Altaf Hussain who is a murderer, terrorist and absconder" - Imran Khan 
"No need to answer Musharraf's man" -Ahsan Iqbal 
i. Imran Khan has now made an U-turn in his policies. (See: Jang)
ii. Running away without anwering a question - as Ahsan Iqbal did- on the basis of character is the clearest example of argumentum Ad Hominem. The whole argument presented by Mr. Iqbal vanishes after such a grave fallacy.

2. Appeal to Belief   

This sort of argument states that because a majority of the people believe in an idea X, hence X must be true. The fallacy is commonly seen in an argument for supporting democracy. The argument presented by Pakistan's opposition falls into this category. The logic runs like this:

Because People call president Zardari to be corrupt,

Thus, he is  corrupt.

This is a very weak argument as it is not the duty of the people to decide who is corrupt or not, rather the sumpreme court has the power to give a decision. 

Mr. Mawaz Shareef's quotation is a prime example of this fallacy:

"Pakistan ki 18 crore awam ka mutalba hai...." (It is the desire of 180 million Pakistanis)"
Appeal to belief fallacy doesn't denounce democratic principles. It states that arguments should have strong foundations rather wage sentences such as 180 million people, et cetera.

3. Poisoning the Well

'Poisoning the Well' means to discredit the credentials of a person and hence all the arguments s/he later makes are automatically discredited. This fallacy is among the commonest sort of fallacies on talk shows. The political parties and religious clergy heavily uses this line of argument to give "value" to their arguments. In reality, such an argument directly goes into the bin.

Imran Khan has become a target to such fallacious arguments. Most of Mr. Imran's rational were denounced by repeatedly exposing the marriage he did in United States. What Imran Khan did in his personal life doesn't mean that his conclusions about rampant corruption in Pakistan are weak. 'Poisoning the Well'  is used by the government in belittling Imran Khan's logic. The media overlooks this sort of fallacious arguments and never tries to stop it.

MQM used this fallacy in belittling Imran Khan's credentials in 2007. MQM used the word 'playboy' for Mr. Khan in the ongoing battle between them in those years.

4. Straw Man Fallacy

Straw Man fallacy means to reduce an argument by deliberately interpreting a weaker version of it and then debunking this weaker version. This weaker version is known as the 'Straw Man'.

Pakistani media promotes such argument to keep the confusion alive. For example, on the matter of giving the MFN (most favoured nation) status to India, Pakistani media deliberately interpreted MFN as 'pasandida doost' (favourite friend) while in reality it was simply a normal trade agreement. This straw man logic allowed the Islamic extremists to open an assault on India, hence deepening confrontation between the two neighbours. In this sense, Pakistani media works as an entertainment industry, where actors and villains aren't Hollywood actors. 

Most of the anchors don't do a in depth study of their respective topics before doing a program. This promotes confusion, hence quadruples annual profits. 

A person by the name of Zaid Hamid deliberately makes this fallacy. He presents India as a much weaker, scattered, and corrupt society compared to Pakistan. He then debunks India be creating an artificial superiority of Pakistan. In reality, the movements going on in India are of very different nature compared to Pakistan. Debunking India as a weaker state and building up arguments against her has no logical grounds. Such arguments only allows a man to live in this self created fool's paradise.

These are only 4 argumentative fallacies which are quiet visible on television. I'll discuss more of them in the future. 

To conclude, media persons should stop their guests from making such fallacies because they reduce the trustworthiness of electronic media.

1 comment:

  1. hello sir i liked ur article very much .... and it is very helpful for me as I'm doing thesis or u can say a research paper on this topic i would be obliged if u could help me a little bit on finding more of this kind thankyou