August 20, 2008

The Bhutto Factor

Coverage of Pakistan
3rd Qtr 2007 1.3
4th Qtr 2007 5.1
1st Qtr 2008 1.7
2nd Qtr 2008 0.3

1%-Amount of coverage of Pakistan from Jan. 1-Aug. 17, 2008. 

Although it is both a nuclear power and a crucial front in the war on terror, events inside Pakistan don’t tend to generate much interest from the U.S. media. So far in 2008, coverage of Pakistan has filled only 1% of the overall newshole as measured by PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

In the course of the past year there has been one dramatic spike in coverage of the turmoil inside Pakistan. It occurred during the fourth quarter of 2007 and revolved around a key figure—Benazir Bhutto, the Harvard-educated, pro-Western former prime minister.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan to participate in elections last October. Her return triggered a cascade of events—protests, bombings, and the declaration of Martial Law, and the placing of Bhutto under house arrest. The week Martial Law was declared (Nov. 4-9) coverage of Pakistan rose to 17% of the newshole. The struggle for political power was then punctuated by Bhutto’s assassination on December 27. That week—Dec. 23-29, 2007—attention to Pakistan accounted for 18% of all the coverage studied. Driven by those two dramatic events, coverage of Pakistan in the final three months of last year filled 5% of the newshole.

By the time 2008 rolled around, media interest had plunged again, down to 2% in the first quarter of the year and to less than 1% in the second quarter. The Aug. 18 resignation of President Pervez Musharraf, after his rule was destabilized by the events of last year, is a major development attracting media attention this week. Given the limited coverage, the resignation may be hard for many Americans to understand. And the track record would suggest that such coverage won’t be sustained.

Mark Jurkowitz of PEJ