A WORD frequency run on all that I have written, almost one hundred and sixty thousand words, or tokens, that got in print in New Age pages in 2017 brings the word ‘government’ — but for articles, prepositions, conjunctions and such words that get in writing quite often — atop a table of about 10,000 unique forms of word, or types.
This very well suggests that I have, or New Age has, almost always been about the government, by staying beside it, sometime, welcoming its decisions with cautionary notes that nothing should go awry, by going against it, mostly, criticising its action so that such discussions could continue and roll into a better situation, abstaining, rarely, from giving any opinions at all, and, on little more than a couple of occasions, raising questions for all to be answered.
The proposition may not be conclusive, or definitive, as I am only one among others who write editorials, or leaders as they lead the paper by becoming its voice. There are others on the team who, together, write a lot more. Yet just a word frequency list might give an insight, even if run on the leaders written by one of the writers, as the line that the leaders take is not only that of the member writing the piece that day but also of the editor.
Editorials individually written — by people having leader-writing roles, with their specialism of politics, economics, rights issues, education or legal issues — are reflective of collective opinions. And they are buried, therefore, anonymously a few pages inside the day’s issue. They are unsigned as they account for the voice of the paper.
There is something more to keeping the leaders without any signature. With the writers remaining unnamed, the arguments made can be discussed, debated, accepted and rejected without any bias towards or against the writer. This embrace for anonymity also helps the writers to stay above the fray and be focused more on arguments or facts than on personalities.
All these pieces, 280 to be precise, with a handful of op-eds among them, have ‘people’ as the next most used word — a clear reference to New Age’s bias towards people. The word ‘Bangladesh’ comes third in the ranking, followed by ‘Myanmar’, with the word ‘Rohingya’ coming two words later. New Age has dealt with, in its editorials, the affair of the Rohingya influx and other issues concerning now the most-persecuted community in the world earnestly.
Since August 25, when the Rohingyas, in the latest spate of violence in Rakhine State of Myanmar, started crossing the border into Bangladesh, New Age has had about 28 editorials and a half on the Rohingya issue till the year-end. More than a half of them were published in just a month — a leader on the Rohingya issue almost every other day and not because the subject was an easy find but because it has a serious import. New Age, which has always written on the issue, in an increased way since October 2016, has not ever changed its stand on the matter.
But after ‘Myanmar’, comes the word ‘court’, which brings to the mind the court orders that are left ignored by the government and not properly complied with; and, of course, there are the issues of the independence of the judiciary and the disciplinary rules for subordinate court judges, till now buried in history in an unmeaning way.
The word that comes sixth in the ranking is ‘education’ — with the leaks of question papers, a growing pass rate in public examinations, wobbly secondary and higher secondary education that fails to push students through to the tertiary level, textbook blunders and its mismanagement, a visible bias on part of the government towards schools in urban areas than in rural areas and a conspicuous education minister, the word ‘education’ had to be among the 10 most used words worthy of the name in the editorials.
My pieces printed in 2017 have ‘Dhaka’ mentioned most in editorials, followed by Chittagong, Rajshahi and Rangpur sharing the same position which is much lower than the first two, Khulna, Barisal, Sylhet and Mymensingh, the last one being mentioned just once. As editorials are based on reports, it can clearly be a pointer to the news and the reporting to put in a bit more efforts to cover events in other areas. Dhaka being the capital city steals most of the focus, Chittagong being the port city comes next. But others are nowhere near.
Although all these names could mean both districts and divisions, which are clusters of districts meant for a better administrative management, it could very well be the case that the names that came up in editorials meant districts and not divisions. Yet still, the first was named 226 times and the second 63 times; and third one being named as many as 11 times should be a cause of concern.
As a phrase, the most used one is ‘as New Age reported on’, included to own up to the story, to give information, to refer to the reports in question, to increase the word count when the leader writer cannot push through and, of course, excluded, which has not been explicitly counted in the frequency list, when the writer needs space for a few more words. New Age has almost always, all through, published editorials based on its own news materials — photographs, news items or features — or the materials it has owned up. On a couple of occasions, New Age wrote editorials on reports that it thought the next morning that it had missed. In all such cases, the story was either proved dubious or was withdrawn, by way of an editorial note, the day after by the paper that published it.
Even though editorials are regarded as the voice of the paper, editorial readership is often thought to be lower than news readership. This may be true as only a small portion of journalists on any newspaper read the editorials of that newspaper even once a week. An in-house look could very well paint the outside picture. Yet New Age editorials are reported to have been read more than editorials of other newspapers.
But editorials, which are known more for the bias that the newspaper may have unlike news reports which should be a clinical presentation of facts, are said to be read by people from the older and better educated segment than the average reader. This points to the portion of the population who are likely to have been involved in policy and management of public affairs. Yet it is often doubted if there could be a relationship between editorial page readership and editorial effects or if any such relationship at all exists.
If the editorial readership had effects on public affairs, much of the governance problems could have been resolved long ago. Any editorial of any newspapers of Dhaka on the road condition of the capital city written and published 20 years ago can easily be reprinted, with the dates, if there are any, being changed, without having to raise an eyebrow about the contemporaneity of the writing. Yet, editorials are written, over and over again, on the same issue, sometimes being looked into through a different angle, just to keep the discussion alive in the hope that it would mould public opinions and, at some point, the issues would be attended to, adequately, by proper authorities.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.
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