Pakistani media, public opinion, and the downfall of Pervez Musharraf : news attribute agenda-setting, and cognitive liberation in the Lawyers’ Movement




Bajwa, Hena Khursheed

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In 2007, Pakistan saw its first popular mass protest movement in decades. Subsequently known as the Lawyers’ Movement, the protest was initiated by Pakistani lawyers in response to then dictator President General Pervez Musharraf’s decision to unconstitutionally suspend Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This dissertation explores the second-level attribute agenda-setting effects of Pakistani news media on public opinion regarding General Pervez Musharraf, and the consequent sense of “cognitive liberation” – the collective sentiment that the public can affect social change – among Pakistanis, that eventually lead to Musharraf’s political downfall. A content analysis of 318 news stories was conducted from the English language daily The News over seven time periods between 2007 and 2008. The newspaper was selected as representative of one of Pakistan’s most powerful media groups, the Jang Media Group. The content analysis results were then compared with Pakistan public opinion polls conducted by the International Republican Institute over seven time periods between 2007 and 2008. Spearman’s Rho correlations were used to describe the relationship between the tone of The News’ descriptions in its stories and Pakistani public opinion regarding General Musharraf during the Lawyers’ Movement. Social Movement Theory was also used in a textual analysis of The News reportage to contextualize the various political processes during the Lawyers’ Movement, and also to help explain how and why the movement was different from others in Pakistan’s recent history. The results of both analyses suggested that the tone of the attributes of General Musharraf highlighted by the Pakistani press during the Lawyers’ Movement did significantly influence public opinion about General Musharraf. Further, The News’ media representation during the Movement played an important role in the shared belief among Pakistanis that they could effectively unite to oppose Musharraf’s leadership.


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