Media and the Armed Forces -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media and the Armed Forces

Rizwan Ghani
Media persons descend on earthquake affected areas, mostly in forces helis, and somehow end up meeting segment of people who are yet to receive aid, assistance and tents. By showing such clips the media apparently is doing their professional duty ie trying to bring the reality before the public across the country. However, this doesn’t leave a positive picture before the viewers. There is a thin line between professional uprighteousness and depicting genuine ground realities. On more than two occasions shown on the private TV channel earthquake affected people blamed Army for taking far too long to provide tents and other relief support. Few days back a brigadier was shown struggling to explain the relief working to victims desperate for aid. And it was not difficult to make out how things would be once the cameras were removed.

Army is in the forefront of the relief operations from the start. It is not only sustaining the relief efforts but is also acting as the bridge to sustain the entire process. Now since Army is in the vanguard and in control therefore it is natural that people show their frustrations once there is delay in relief efforts. And as recipients they are not concerned how it reaches them but how quick it is delivered. The Army on the other hand has to follow the laid down procedures. Furthermore, it is difficult to maintain speedy disbursement of aid items like tents and blankets for want of availability of data, legitimacy of victims and claims. The victims are upset over delays and media shows them on TV but there is hardly a person from media who has shown pilferage and fraud. Since it is there the army there has rightfully taken steps to avoid aid going into wrong hands especially with approaching snow season it could mean difference between life and death.

In this regard both the victims and the distributors need to work out in accordance to distribution policy that should be given by the state. The media in turn should project the distribution policy so that victims don’t blame for delays for want of signatures on chits bearing stamps. It is important at this stage because Army has done a commendable job and for want of clear distribution policy the rapport must not be lost. If the items are to be issued to victims after completion of certain formalities the victims should be facilitated by the concerned to fulfil for quick issuance of items. This will facilitate both the victim and the person who is issuing the items because he too is accountable to his chain of command. The reporters should also bring such ground realities before the viewers as part of professional justice. Since the local councillors are now being gradually involved in distribution of funds and material therefore media should track the aid and relief from people back to councillors. And as and when they come across victims without relief they should be asked to tell the name of their local body representative who in turn can explain the reasons for delay and overall progress. The Army in the area can make the system of distribution more transparent by giving the details of material with such representatives or individuals. And this should not be a problem as Army has almost completed the survey of the affected areas. The media can use the information to help the Centre keep an eye on the progress of relief and rehabilitation rather than use isolated incidents as detriment to the efforts of the armed forces.

The basic problem in all probability is methodology of issuing of relief items that is causing delay in the distribution. The victims see the dumps of relief items but delay in distribution due to procedures frustrates them. In most cases victims are waiting for it since long time. The Army needs to seek expert help in this regard so that relief items are issued quickly and this is only possible if an approved issuance system is put in place. This system can be subsequently used for disbursement of financial aid, too. It can help to keep transparency in distribution process, sustain future donations and accelerate the distribution process manifold in terms of time. Since the survey record is being computerised it would be practical to show the amount of aid given against each family head or individual on a website. If it is done it could help minimise the possibility of frauds. And that is where the media can play its part to help the Government keep a check.

Local police and administration should also be made effective and facilitated to discharge their duties while armed forces gradually withdraw from the scene as signs of normal activities return in the affected areas. This can be undertaken in consultation with the provincial governments. The centre however can give tentative dates for withdrawal of Armed Forces to help local governments take over. This kind of planning could be beneficial for all in the long run including the morale of the troops.

Finally, media has to keep in mind that despite unprecedented devastation Armed Forces are doing commendable job. However, the armed Forces leadership should help provincial governments to bring in more local body representatives to undertake the distribution process as per the approved policy. The local representatives have started in some affected areas but that needs to be broadened. The Armed Forces in the mean while should act as observer for maintaining transparency and keeping people across the country posted. The quicker it is done the better it would be for all.
Source: Pakistan Observer
Date:11/4/2005