Chris Riha, Pulitzer Center
Congratulations to all those who entered Round 7 of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting's Global Issues/Citizen Voices essay contest, hosted in partnership with Helium.com. We asked our contestants to answer the following question: "With mounting violence, a surge in Taliban support and growing numbers of displaced persons making front-page news in Pakistan, are we getting an accurate picture of the realities on the ground?" Contestants were asked to draw from the Center's current reporting project on Pakistan from Common Language Project journalists Sarah Stuteville, Alex Stonehill, and Jessica Partnow. There were many good essays submitted on this subject, and we've selected two as winning entires for their compelling, albeit varied, perspectives on the topic.
Our first winner is Muhammad Fahd Waseem. Muhammad, an Electrical Engineering student from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, makes good marks at school, enjoys spending time with his friends and family, wielding racquets, reading, and writing. As a citizen of Pakistan, he was able to talk with people on the ground and gather public opinions of the media for his essay. Muhammad's findings were all very similar: people in Pakistan know that the media is not accurately representing life as they see it. Muhammad even spoke with illiterates that knew newspapers were not providing a truthful account of the situation in Pakistan. He read them the essay prompt and they laughed at him. Because of this, Muhammad was hoping to do his country a service by highlighting the biases that occur in media reports on Pakistan.
As he says in his essay:
With Pakistan recovering from the legacy of a military dictatorship, which failed to properly address the security threat created by extremists operating within its borders, the world should expect the now fledgling democracy to experience some degree of violence as its new leadership tries to establish control over its territories. Although the media tends to over-focus on hot spots where violence is more prominent, thus exaggerating the situation at times, Pakistan is facing a very real threat from accelerating violence, growing numbers of displaced residents and expanding Taliban support. Understanding how detrimental the threat is, however, may not be possible at this time.
Our second winner is James Thornton, an Intelligence Analyst who has a professional interest in Pakistan. As a part of his position, James knows first-hand that the news in Pakistan is important to regional and global security. To prepare for the contest, he spent time reading Pakistani blogs and newspapers to see how their perceptions and opinions differentiated from what the mainstream media was reporting. His essay comes from a frustration with the "new media," which he views as very biased and partisan. In a world that he views as over-editorialized, he was hoping to objectively understand life in Pakistan from an outsider's point of view. He ends his essay with a clear warning of the doom that could unfold in Pakistan if not followed closely by the media and by the international community:
The stakes are high in Pakistan. The nightmare scenario is Pakistan descends into civil war and Al Qaeda seizes a nuclear weapon. A senior Al Qaeda leader has stated the group's intent to do just this, and is calling for more attacks against Pakistan to instigate the necessary anarchy to achieve this aim. The public in both Pakistan and the United States should remain vigilant and closely scrutinize the unfolding developments in Pakistan's war on terror against the Taliban. The press has a sacred duty to keep the public in a democracy informed so the government and military can be held accountable. Rosy reports of success should be greeted with skepticism and only celebrated when facts on the ground are clear.
You too can be a part of the Pulitzer Center's global conversation. Please keep a look out on our website for future helium contests and deadlines and be sure to check out our Helium page. We look forward to hearing your voice.