Media Watch | Army attacks North Waziristan

Jun 16. 2014 —These are the types of sources and the number of instances of these sources in the English language news media, local and international, as it covers the latest army operation in North Waziristan. Check out our introduction with updating charts and our other posts.

As the Army attacks on North Waziristan ramp up into a full blown military operation called Zarb-e-Azab after the sword of Prophet Mohammad, TQ is launching a media watch project to examine the media coverage of the operation. So far, it is pretty dismal: As our graphs show that sources coming out the security sphere and the state are the ones most heavily cited. In total, they account for nearly two-thirds (68.8 percent) of named and unnamed sources in the English language media. In other words, both the operation–and the reporting on it–comes from the security establishment. For the future of a democratic Pakistan and for the ideals of a free press, this should be deeply disconcerting.

This is a work in progress. Help us out! If you have added data or suggestions, let us know. Spot a mistake? Tell us in the comments. 


We counted up instances of sources, that is, we counted up the number of times a given category of source appears in a news article. Given the standards of modern journalism, a typical English language news story usually cites one source per paragraph (grafs), which are intended as brief, digestible nuggets in a quickly-read news item. We counted a source’s appearance per graf. For instance, if a news story says:

 “The operation had been named Zarb-e-Azb,” said an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement on Sunday.

“Using North Waziristan as a base, these terrorists had waged a war against the state of Pakistan and had been disrupting our national life in all its dimensions, stunting our economic growth and causing enormous loss of life and property.”

“They had also paralysed life within the agency and had perpetually terrorised the entire peace loving and patriotic local population,” the statement quoted DG ISPR Maj Gen Asim Bajwa as saying.

He said, “Our valiant armed forces have been tasked to eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and color, along with their sanctuaries.”

We count that as 4 instances of security sources. This method allows us to understand the relative weight given to each source. A news story may cite one military official and one civilian making the story appear neutral if we simply counted the number of officials and civilians. But, that story may have given 10 grafs to the official and one paltry line to the civilian, making the actual news item favor one source over another.

We used several local and international English language news reporting to build our data beginning with reportage on June 14, 2014, a day before the latest operation was launched. The local media outlets we examined are: Dawn, Express Tribune and The News. International news media outlets include: The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Telegraph. 

The categories are as follows:

State | Security – security officials; ISPR; military; police

State | Civilian – government officials (local, provincial and central); ministers; the political administration of FATA; politicians, political party statements

Insurgents – statements by militants; militant groups; spokesmen

Experts – analysts; experts; journalists (local and international); media outlets; US government officials; aid agencies and NGOs. (In this case, we came across several instances where news items cited other media outlets or other journalists as sources for the claims in the story.)

Fata residents – locals; tribal chiefs; jirga members; IDPs

Other  – unnamed and uncategorized sources

We expect to build similar data for Urdu language reporting, shortly.

What did we find? 

Security sources account for the bulk of the coverage and are twice as likely to be cited than the next most popular source: the government. It also struck us that “experts”, which include defence analysts as well as US governmental officials, are also twice as likely to be cited than the residents of FATA themselves.


Perhaps the most startling discovery we made is that to date, Dawn does not have a single resident of FATA and North Waziristan as a source. This is despite the fact that Dawn has a bureau in Peshawar and is one of the oldest and most established English language media houses.

Here are some sample stories from Dawn: N Waziristan operation: 13 militants killed in fresh air strikeNW operation to continue until terrorism eliminated: NawazKarachi airport attack mastermind killed in N Waziristan: Sources


The News

By contrast, The News, the English language newspaper of the Jang Group, stands out for the instances of quotes from FATA residents. This is because it ran a major story on refugees the day after the operation was launched: The story reports that 2,420 families have migrated to Bannu and Lakki Marwat, and that they have refused to stay in camps set up for the internally displaced in Bakkakhel, citing fear of militant attacks. In the rest of the 12 stories we looked at however, The News mostly relies on security sources like the rest of the media outlets.



The Express Tribune

The Express Tribune has far less coverage than the other local English language newspapers: 4 full stories, only. But, the newspaper also ran a piece on the exodus from North Waziristan.

Some sample coverage: Jet bombings kill over 80 terrorists in North Waziristan: ISPRExodus revisited: Displaced families from N Waziristan find respite in Bannu, Afghanistan




International coverage

Compared to the local press, the international English language press cites security officials even more than Pakistanis. Less than 10 percent of citations came from the civilian government in the handful of papers that we picked from the international press. There’s only one story with North Waziristan residents being interviewed, and that’s found in the Wall Street Journal–the most thorough follow-up piece on the operation thus far.

The New York Times has only run 2 stories on the Waziristan operation so far. In those 2 stories however, over 59 percent of the paper of record’s sources come from the security establishment. That outstrips all of the other international papers we examined. NYT’s chief correspondent for Pakistan, who still shares a byline on these stories, is actually not even in the country. Since being kicked out last year, he has resided in London.

The Guardian has run 3 stories on the army attack and uses a sizable number of unnamed and uncategorized sources. Although the newspaper generally has Left leanings, it has generally touted the pro-war, liberal line on the Army operations with its stories referring to the operation as “long awaited” by Pakistanis — a highly debatable claim that the Army, and its supporters have used to drum up support and establish a (contestable) narrative.

The Wall Street Journal has only done one story; Yet, it beats out its competitors in terms of balance in the international press. The news story has citations from residents in North Waziristan. Security forces (almost half of all instances) and experts with close links to the security state (30 percent) continue to dominate the analysis.
The Washington Post has also done only one story.
The Telegraph  seems to have forgotten to quote residents from North Waziristan, preferring vague references to “reports” that are circulating… somewhere.

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24 Responses to Media Watch | Army attacks North Waziristan

  1. Riaz Ahmed on Jun 2014 at 12:10 AM

    You are doing a super work by exposing the state bias in reports on war on Waziristan. I would like to help you. How can I?

    • M.A. on Jun 2014 at 4:22 AM

      Dear Riaz,

      Thank you! Shoot us an e-mail on and we can discuss how you can help!

      M. Ahmad

  2. Sahar Habib Ghazi on Jun 2014 at 12:29 AM

    Excellent initiative, thanks for doing this! A few queries: are you still analyzing BBC’s coverage – is that why it wasn’t included in the int’l coverage section? Also, how did you reach the conclusion that Dawn does not have local sources? One of the people bylined in one of those Dawn reports you linked is based out of Miramshah, maybe he’s reporting remotely from Peshawar now, but he is a NW local. Unlike other media groups, Dawn tries to take extra steps to keep their stringers secure, so sometimes they don’t get bylines on stories that might put them in danger, so bylines aren’t always good to gauge local reporting by.

    • M.A. on Jun 2014 at 4:20 AM

      Dear Sahar,

      Thank you for your reply, and your interest in our approach.

      We are not analyzing BBC coverage just yet. So far, the reason for this is that we are a small team, and need to be able to identify a complete set of articles (for example all articles in print editions) that we can then comb for the sources that they refer to in order to give a complete picture. We were also interested in combing through the wires (AP, Reuters, AFP) but do not have the manpower and have decided to focus on a set of highly influential newspapers.

      Regarding your point about Dawn: We only count instances of sources quoted/referred to within the article itself, and do not take into account where the journalist is based. It is possible for a reporter to be based in Peshawar or, even, North Waziristan, and write an entire story based on security forces or government sources. Thus far, that has been the case with Dawn. You can read more about our methodology above.

      Finally, we welcome any and all feedback to improve our methodology. This is a work in progress.

      M. Ahmad

  3. Tanveer Ahmed Khan on Jun 2014 at 3:17 AM

    bakwas band karo and support Army you suckers…

    • Mia on Jun 2014 at 5:06 AM

      Clowns like you are the exact reason why the work Tanqeed does is so important. You’re counting on the same people who pursued a policy of “strategic depth” for years to take care of this issue.

  4. Waqas Naeem on Jun 2014 at 5:30 AM

    Why have you chosen to count source instances per paragraph instead of counting sources per story? In the example you cited in the text of your post, the four source instances in four paragraphs are really just one source. I do think, however, that your findings might not change much if you used a single article as the unit for counting sources.

    • M.A. on Jun 2014 at 7:23 AM

      Dear Waqas,

      Thank you for your comment, and your interest in our post.

      We have explained our reasoning in our methodology:

      “This method allows us to understand the relative weight given to each source. A news story may cite one military official and one civilian making the story appear neutral if we simply counted the number of officials and civilians. But, that story may have given 10 grafs to the official and one paltry line to the civilian, making the actual news item favor one source over another.”

      Hope this answers your question!

      M. Ahmad and M. Tahir

  5. Faria on Jun 2014 at 6:53 AM

    This is an excellent analysis. Great work Madiha.

    • M.T. on Jun 2014 at 7:26 AM

      Thank you! M. Ahmad and I continue to work on it.

  6. […] as it covers the latest army operation in North Waziristan. For our initial coverage including methodology, check out our first […]

  7. Hafsa Adil on Jun 2014 at 12:49 PM

    Although I call myself a journalist, I like to believe I have a long way to go before I become a credible voice and initiatives such this one by Tanqeed will surely help people like me to learn and analyse my own work as well as that of news organizations.

    Thank you so much for this effort.

    I’m a regular reader.

    • M.T. on Jun 2014 at 2:05 PM

      Thank you, Hafsa!

      M. Tahir & M. Ahmad

  8. Saeed on Jun 2014 at 7:19 PM

    Well done! Great initiative at least it will help those who seek truth from unbiased sources.

  9. […] and international, as it covers the latest army operation in North Waziristan. Check out our first, second and […]

  10. TLW on Jun 2014 at 5:40 PM

    I’m rather neutral on the attack, but living in Karachi I sincerely argue that control of Pakistan and its society and much of its politics has passed beyond the control of the security establishment. My thesis is that we are witnessing the emergence of a sort of sectarian miasma being fomented by the lumpen-proletariat within each province and that what the security establishment wants, and what direction it might take is not much in its control. Studying that would be more useful, because the sectarian inclined monsters are the right hand of the TTP, with both determined to overthrow or control the current order in our society.

    And as for our best minds, they are either too few or too scared to even confront the religious monster that is staring them in the face.

  11. Usman Khan on Jun 2014 at 4:19 PM

    Can I ask a question. Do you use electronic media (TV) as a source or not? Geo show Aapas ki Baat with Najam Sethi claimed in the June 22nd show that the army is protecting the Haqqani network ad has moved them to the Shewa IDP camp in NWA. This was done after these ‘strategic assets’ were attacked by the US drone strike recently. The point is, sometimes electronic media/ news channels such as Geo and newspapers like Friday Times and Asia times online do contain more pertinent information than Dawn and daily times ETC.

  12. Waqar Ali Roghani on Jan 2015 at 1:22 AM

    Hi, I am writing an essay on the same lines but it deals with the main Urdu news channels. I want to share that essay with you, on which address I should email please?

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