Covering general elections: British mission publishes handbook for journalists -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Covering general elections: British mission publishes handbook for journalists

KARACHI (February 03 2008): The British High Commission, in collaboration with ‘Intermedia’, has published a book titled ‘Reporting for change: a Handbook for Journalists Covering Elections’. Aidan Liddle, Head of Press & Public Affairs, British High Commission, Islamabad, while forwarding a copy of the book to this newspaper, has said.

“As part of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s international strategy on Democracy and Democratic Development, a series of workshops were held for journalists all over Pakistan in September last year.

“The British High Commission, in collaboration with Intermedia, funded this project to train Pakistani journalists to produce in-depth investigative journalism on political and electoral issues. In all 84 journalists attended the workshops from all the provinces of Pakistan, including FATA. The participants had opportunities to interact with experts from media, NGOs, public sector, political parties and the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“The book briefly highlights the background of elections in Pakistan, and presents ideas for stories on important issues that need to be investigated and reported in depth before, during, and after elections to assist people in making the best choice.”

Robert Brinkly CMG, British High Commissioner to Pakistan, in foreword to the book said: “Democracy – a system in which the people freely choose their leaders, and hold them to account-is crucial for guaranteeing stability and prosperity. Democracy is all about strong institutions, protecting the rights of citizens, including women and minority groups, and upholding the rule of law.

But it is also about free and fair elections, which are the mechanism through which the people choose who governs them, and express their judgement on the performance of their government. As such, free and fair elections are absolutely crucial to the functioning of a proper democracy.

“The media plays an important role in any democratic society; a free press is often the way in which governments are held accountable for their actions. At election time, they have a duty to report impartially, sensitively and responsibly, ensuring that the people and the political parties can communicate their vision for the future with each other.

They can also act as the guardians of a free and fair electoral process, ensuring the transparency that is crucial for people’s confidence in the elections. “This guide, and the workshops that accompanied its production, are an example of the material support of the UK for democracy in Pakistan.”

He expressed hope that it would be useful, and contribute significantly both to the continued development of the free media in Pakistan, and to open, transparent, free and fair elections in 2008.

The introduction highlights that since the early seventies, the focus of media coverage during general elections has been mainly on personalities rather than parties and their manifestos. Before elections new laws are introduced, and constituencies re-demarcated for political gains, but often these go unnoticed.

Radical changes occurred before 2002 general elections. Once again, seats were reserved for women in parliament and the number of seats in the Senate and national provincial assemblies enhanced.

As the media generally is not trained in election coverage skills, the people’s knowledge of election laws, party manifestos, and election gimmicks is severely limited. Media coverage of elections in Pakistan is usually limited to reporting on post-election pledges by politicians, and election results.

Talking about the possible fallout of the existing or changed law is even rare. Elections are the cornerstone of any democracy. The media have a vital role to inform the masses of the politicians’ promises, and communicating to the politicians the peoples’ needs and desires. This is particularly important in countries lacking progress on democracy.

Journalists should report elections in a non-partisan way so as to help people make their minds on the basis of what various candidates have to offer. The contents of the book include: elections in Pakistan, electoral process, role of media in elections, key guidelines, information gathering, political campaigning and media, code of conduct for media, media bias – right to reply, voters’ education and media, why truth? and some story ideas.
Source: Business Recorder