IN DEPTH provides media analysis of selected media issues that has international relevance.
Discourse analysis of the news reports of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination by The Times
Introduction: The event
Discourse analysis of the news reports of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination by The Times
Introduction: The event
The year 2007 had a very sad end that it took away one the prominent voices of democracy in the contemporary scenario, and particularly the Asian nation of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, a diplomat and political leader with great charisma and intelligence. The news in fact send shock waves for politicians, peace lovers, heads of nations and the common people who loves democracy around the world. The tragic event was reported by media around the world with greater importance, because it carried a significant news value in the troubled times. The news is also sensitive because Pakistan has been in the lime light for quite a long time after media reports and Pentagon warning that the country has been used as a base camp for the terrorists belonging to both Taliban and Al-Queda. But the political equations are quite dubious; the United States still find a friend in Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan. Media reports and CIA briefings about Pakistan’s alleged transfer of nukes to terrorist organisations have not undermined Musharraf’s relationship with the President Bush. The assassination points to the ‘tattered foreign policy of President Bush and those in race to succeed him.’ 
The Times, London, has covered the entire news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, in a pro-democracy standpoint, and has placed the news in an international context with more humanitarian than a political perspective. A discourse analysis of various news reports, the editorial, interviews and the headlines that appeared in The Times on December 28, 2007 point to the nature of the news discourse of the conservative newspaper. The Times had a perfect ‘composition’ to use Galtung and Ruge’s term, in presenting the fact before its readers and to the world.
The Times coverage of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination
John Hartley observes the dynamic nature of news as discourse; he says that news ‘is a social and cultural institution among many others, and it shares their characteristics in important ways. It is, literally, made of words and pictures, so comprising a specially differentiated sub-system within language….News comes to us as the pre-existing discourse of an impersonal social institution which is also an industry’ (Hartley 1995, p.5). The coverage of the event, by The Times distinguishes itself, by the social, political and historical conditions; the discourse is so transparent but powerful that it isolates the political of the cultural, the cultural out of political and humanism out of both the political and the cultural. The Times opted to present the tragedy through a series of news reports with critical headlines coupled with obituary, features, opinions, interviews and a great editorial. As Hartley says; ‘in order to understand the discourse, it would be better to have a close look at the social, political and historical conditions of its production and consumption, because this determinants will shape what it says, the way it develops, the status it enjoys, the people who use it, the uses to which it is put and so on.’ (Hartley 1995, p.6)
Headlines are attractive devices that play a pivotal role in enticing the readers to a particular story. Thus, the structure of headlines is significant not only from a journalistic point of view but also from a political and cultural perspective. Headlines generally use many linguistic devices to identify themselves in certain political and cultural contexts and thereby defining the discourse. These include playing up of attributes like diffusion, perspective, cultural references and linguistic features. Headlines are generally glanced by the readers to know what the news is. Thus, the headlines are expected to contain linguistic features that make them unforgettable and effective, such as alliterations, puns, use of emotive words and many rhetorical devices. The Times has cleverly jumbled with selective vocabulary, that the message is loud and clear.
Fears rise as Bhutto falls. (The Times, p.1)
A blow struck at the heart of Pakistan’s hopes. (The Times, p.2)
Can democracy survive and who will take Bhutto’s place? (The Times, p.4)
Main suspects are warlords and security forces (The Times, p.4)
Civil war feared as angry mob demands head of Musharraf. (The Times, p.5)
The headlines speak the naked truth. For Times, there was no confusion, as its politically literate readers are aware of the political scenario and in Pakistan, and politricks of Musharraf, the dictator. The vocabulary is so tricky that it speaks loudly that, there exits a political imbroglio after the assassination and it is democracy itself which is assassinated. Thus, Benazir becomes the symbol of democracy or a personification of people’s voice. These news stories are laid out in the first five pages so that readers get a first hand information that something is rotten in the politically unstable country. After establishing that Benazir forms the people voice, The Times, gives the story a new turn, it has glorified the virtues of the assassinated leader, raising her to sainthood. Look at the headlines that appear in the next pages.
‘I asked whether she felt immortal. No she answered.’ (The Times, p.6)
‘I know death comes. I don’t fear it.’ (The Times, p.7)
The Times has gone so far to declare that Benazir Bhutto is immortal, immortal like Joan of Arc. She has been given a new image through an opinion piece and excepts from an interview, the headlines giving the right message.
The real political and cultural dimensions of the tragic event are explored through the stories that appear in the next pages.
Leaders denounce senseless murder of a courageous woman and friend.(The Times, p.8)
Pakistani community in Britain is split as fears surface. (The Times, p.8-9)
News could be pivotal in the race to replace Bush as president. (The Times, p.9)
End in sight for a dynasty steeped in power, death and politics (The Times, p.10)
The human-interest piece finds the place in the last page of news coverage of the assassination. It is also tied together with a blown up human-interest photograph of Benazir, putting on make-up just before addressing the fatal election rally. The real intention, it seems not a creation of sympathetic wave, but starting a discussion on human values.
‘I have only now begun to mourn my wife’s heart. Now my heart is broken.’ (The Times, p.11)
The Times chose to say the final word in the edit-page, where there was no adjectives, but a sharp analysis of the facts.
The Nightmare Scenario (The Times, Editorial, p.20)
The report of The Times, was critical even though there was no bias, a clear stance for an international development, which of course had a tremendous geo-political impact. The words used to reveal the situation explain, the news-discourse Times has opted to portray the tragic event.
‘Pakistan was plunged to chaos..’
‘The nuclear-armed country, key ally in America’ war on terror’
‘The most likely culprits are Islamic militants…’ 
‘Saudi Arabia is also thought to have frowned on Ms.Bhutto as being too secular and westernised….’
‘Pakistani Islamist militants who saw Ms.Bhutto as a Westernised heretic and an American stooge…’
‘…profound consequences for the tattered foreign policy of President Bush ….’ 
The vocabulary speaks directly about the political undercurrents of the event and Benazir’s personality and her political and ideological stance and expatiates why she appeared an enemy to the extremists.
The obituary is the usual way of mourning a departed person, but for a leader of the masses and a former prime minister, it had lot more to tell. The space becomes so significant that, it told the readers about the person as well as his life and times. The Times in fact, did not wish to reduce the obit writing to some opinion piece; the newspaper had opted for analytical reports on the crisis of democracy in Pakistan and to reproduce her own words, to give the real feel of the situation.
‘Fitting for a woman who pledged her life to Pakistani politics, she was killed after addressing her first election rally since she returned from eight years self imposed exile...I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger; people are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis.’
Features and Opinions
The title ‘I asked whether she felt immortal. No she answered.’ does not suit a political report, but it fitted fine for the feature about a powerful leader who spent her whole life to cause of her mother country. The feature is full of experiences the writer had with Benazir, revealing her personality and integrity.
‘…She thanked me for taking the time to visit Dubai and was sorry for her lunchtime indiscretions. ..I am also writing to apologize for remarks I may have made inadvertently which were insensitive, she wrote…please accept the apology.’
Another instance is the careful use of sentences from her interview given to the newspaper; the playing up emotive elements not only revealed the personality of the writer, but also stance of the newspaper.,
‘For the past few years, diplomats and other observers have refereed privately to the prospect of the killing of Pervez Musharraf as “nightmare scenario” for international order. In the subtle recognition of the way in which power had already evolved in Pakistan, even before a vote has been cast, the demise of Ms. Bhutto had become the possibility the outside world most dreaded…’
The vocabulary is not emotive, but a balanced way of speaking out a dreaded truth. It is subtle and at the same time powerful enough to convey a strong message. Indeed, Times has counted not only on its readers, but on the entire peace-loving people of the world. The discourse is rightly crafted, and appreciated. There are no recurring terms, metaphors or similes; Times had proved that its news-discourse emanates from plain text, that tell meanings without colour or bias.
- John Hartley (1995) Understanding News, London: Routledge.
- The Times, Friday December 28, 2007
 News could be pivotal in the race to replace Bush as president, (Report), The Times, Friday December 28, 2007, p.9
 Fears rise as Bhutto falls (Main story) The Times, Friday December 28, 2007, p.1
 Main suspects are warlords and security forces, (Analytical report), The Times, Friday December 28, 2007, p.4
 News could be pivotal in the race to replace Bush as president, (Analytical report), The Times, Friday December 28, 2007, p.9
 A blow struck at the heart of Pakistan’s hopes.’ (Analytical report), The Times, Friday December 28, 2007, p.2
 ‘I asked whether she felt immortal. No she answered.’ (Opinion), The Times, Friday December 28, 2007, p.6
 The Nightmare Scenario, ’ (Editorial), The Times, Friday December 28, 2007, p.20