Yellow Journalism: How One Pakistani Paper Reports Polio Cases

Yellow Journalism: How One Pakistani Paper Reports Polio Cases

When it comes to reporting on polio, Pakistani media shows it true color of bias and dishonesty. The latest couple of polio cases reported in Pakistan’s famous English daily Express Tribune offer a glimpse of such journalism.

On Friday, the paper ran a story with a blame-laden headline: Polio drops refusal: Child crippled for life by father’s negligence. The story referred to a 2-year-old boy near Quetta, Balochistan, who was never vaccinated by his father because he loved his son and apparently feared the vaccine would do him harm.polio-vaccine

So when the boy contracted polio, the paper held his father, Rab Nawaz, responsible for his son’s disease. The paper assumed, without any evidence or explanation, that if the boy had been vaccinated, he would have been safe. Since science doesn’t work on assumptions, and the paper never mentioned what kind of polio virus was it (many cases of polio are caused by the virus coming from the polio vaccine itself).

That aside, let’s look at another story in the paper about a polio cases that was reported on Tuesday, November 24, 2015. Express Tribune published the story on November 25th under the headline “Polio case reported in Khyber Agency”. This story makes no mention of the child’s vaccination status. Readers are not told whether the child was vaccinated or unvaccinated. All they get from the story is that a 2-year-old boy in Peshawar, named Abu Sufyan, tested positive for poliovirus. After that, the story abruptly turns to officials’ statements about what they are doing to vaccinate children. Why no mention of the vaccination status? Why not blame anyone for this case?

When the vaccination status is omitted from such stories about polio cases, knowledgeable readers get the reason to suspect that the child may have been vaccinated and yet got the disease. Obviously in such a case the vaccine’s failure to protect the child becomes evident. So did Express Tribune not know or not care to ask about Abu Sufyan’s vaccination status? Or could it be that they knew but chose not to include that information to favor the vaccine business?

In either case, the paper practiced lame and jaundiced journalism. If they didn’t know, they should have asked and if they got no information, they should have mentioned so in their story. But wait till you see this story on TNN about Abu Sufyan’s case. The news site says: “Sources said Abu Sufyan was administered polio drops in almost every vaccination campaign but that did not save him from the crippling disease.” There you go! The child was vaccinated and a news site with far less popularity and exposure asked about the vaccination status, but a leading paper like Express Tribune – having partnership with International New York Times – goes entirely easy on it.

And to cite another recent example of such bad reporting, the paper published a story on Friday about five new polio cases in Karachi over the past 12 days. While the names of affected children and their ages and specific areas of residence were reported in the story, there was no mention of vaccination status nor any line saying whether the paper made any effort to learn whether these children were vaccinated or not. Those who have some brains left obviously could not ignore the paper’s bit of info: “all the cases were detected from ‘normal’ or not at risk areas.” What are ‘normal” and “not at risk areas”? Apparently those where children have been vaccinated, for the entire rhetoric of the affair is centered on vaccination as effective and helpful. And yet the paper doesn’t bother to inquire about the vaccination status of the affected children in these cases. And the dots are as easy to connect as anything.

These cases are only a glimpse of the persistent practice of Express Tribune of doing bad reporting in favor of the polio vaccine. And this paper is only one of the mainstream media in Pakistan that has engaged in this practice for at least 3 years now. The word is: Yellow Journalism.


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