Media and economy – long way to go -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media and economy – long way to go

That Pakistan’s electronic media couldn’t care less about the country’s economic issues is something many of us in the economic establishment already know of. But thanks to Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRIME), we know have a ballpark measure of how much does the media focus on economy.

A recently released report by PRIME shows that only 13 percent of the content appearing in the country’s top prime time TV talk shows revolved around economy during the eight months ending February 2014.

Thirty-nine percent of the content revolved around terrorism and security related issues, whereas 48 percent of the discussion at prime time was politics, political parties, military, the judiciary, their statements and what not.

It is true that prime time news shows, anywhere in the world, usually revolve on politics or other human angle or national debates. But not when the economy is in a fragile state. When the economy takes a beating, as has been case in Pakistan since last many years, then economic issues are assigned far more importance and thereby given relatively more air time than just 13 percent. Clearly, that idea has been lost on Pakistan’s electronic media.

So far as the report itself is concerned, one can say that it’s a good starting off point to help drive the national discourse where it is needed the most. However, this column would like to highlight three things to improve its reliability as an indicator or a reference point. First, that it also needs to analyse the prime time news bulletin to have a well rounded assessment of the coverage of economic issues. Prime time shows only cover so much.

The second pertains to further segmentation of economic coverage into energy, taxation, inflation, and other classifications. For instance, in the current report one can observe that about 41 percent of economic coverage is about energy. About the same is on overall macro economy, where discussions on the politically spicy topic of the IMF ruled the most. The rest of the media coverage on economics seems to be a product of sheer populism i.e. those reeking of the ‘Ogra drops a petrol bomb’ mindset.

And this is the third area where PRIME should consider working on, because the country really needs independent views on the quality of discussion on media on the subject of business and economics. Taxes paid by politicians and issues in the rolling out of VAT – both can be classified as discussion on taxation. The former will likely be fuelled by populist notions and political infighting; the latter may well be a bit more reform oriented. And this is why qualitative assessment matters.

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