Representation of the Syrian Crisis in the Pakistani Media to Advance Government Policy

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor, International Relation Department, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 PhD in International Relation, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran


Iran and Saudi Arabia, which enjoy good relations with Pakistan, were engaged in a proxy war during the Syrian crisis. The tensions between the two regional rivals over Syria posed a major challenge for Pakistan. On the one hand, Pakistan could not give up its friendship with its western neighbor with which it shares long and strategic borders and security concerns. On the other hand, Pakistan's close ties with Saudi Arabia did not allow Karachi to abandon its strategic cooperation with the oil-rich Kingdom. Every year, Riyadh provides billions of dollars in cash and credit to the Pakistani government in addition to extending cultural aid, humanitarian aid and other forms of assistance such as discounts on oil prices and loan forgiveness and discharge of the remaining balance on past credits. Pakistan's dependency is not limited to the economic or military dimensions of Saudi-Pakistan bilateral relations, and extends to cultural and religious domains because of the importance of Mecca and Medina as the holiest of Moslim cities and Pakistani people’s interest in hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. In addition to the challenges of balancing its relations with these two regional states and other foreign policy issues, Pakistan’s political leaders are faced with threatening domestic challenges due to the existing conflicts between different religious and sectarian spectrums ranging from moderates to extremist groups in Pakistani society. The power struggle and factional conflicts pose great challenges for the Pakistani decision-makers who have tried to find effective ways for public opinion management.
This brings us to the main objective of the present study —to examine how the Syrian crisis has been portrayed in the media in Pakistan, which is considered one of the most important countries in South Asia in terms of active media. It has dozens of television news networks and hundreds of newspapers operating nationally and locally in the country and enjoying relatively high levels of freedom of the press. However, some of them have been influenced by powerful political parties and the country's rulers. By focusing on three media: Ummat newspaper, Jang newspaper and Islam Times news site and using qualitative content analysis method, “Pedam” approach and analytical software, the authors attempt to find out how Syrian crisis were represented in these three Pakistani media outlets by using different types of strategies (e.g., highlighting, marginalization, conceptualization, and naturalization). It is certain that the meaning of the world depends on its representation. Representation, then, is the way in which we make reality meaningful. We create meanings about ourselves, others and the world around us, and we share or argue with each other through representation.
The findings show that the Ummat newspaper with its anti-Bashar orientation and negative portrayal of Iran and Russia, claims that the roots of the Syrian crisis lie in the intervention of these pro-Bashar Assad governments that are aligned with Syria. The Islam Times news site seeks to defend the legitimate sovereignty of the Syrian government by concentrating on Western intervention, and criticizing and highlighting the US role in creating the crisis in Syria and the region. Jang newspaper has adopted a different approach, and has portrayed the crisis as a deep-rooted and unresolved domestic issue in Syria, and has introduced the intervention of Western and regional countries in support of (or in opposition to) Bashar Assad as a result of domestic  anti-Bashar forces. While there are many similarities between the macro-orientation of the two media outlets of Jang and the Ummat, the clear differences arising from the meanings pushed out of context in the two media outlets of the Ummat and the Islam Times is evident. In the former (Ummat), the Iran-Russia bloc is highlighted as an enemy, and in the latter (Islam Times), the Western bloc is represented as an enemy taking side with the United States and its regional allies.  Beyond the contradicting representation of the Syrian crisis in the three media outlets, we found that they represent three different segments of Pakistani society. However, these media outlets were in fact instilling in their audience the need for Pakistan's neutrality.  Consequently, they made it possible for the Pakistani government to achieve its goal of public opinion management in the Syrian crisis through the media in order to advance its own policy agenda.


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