Millions spent on media
KARACHI: The election 2008 is different from other polls held in the past because the print and electronic media have overshadowed other means of electioneering this time.
Although there are no authentic figures available about election expenditure, the amount has run into millions of rupees. The media cells of almost all political parties refused to divulge the figures, saying that they would be able to disclose them after the election.
Efforts were made to quantify the expenditure, but they did not fructify as nobody — political parties, TV channels, newspapers and the advertising agencies — was ready to disclose the amount.
Unlike the elections held in 2002, there are many private TV channels, in addition to the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV). This has provided an opportunity to political parties to make up for the absence of big rallies due to fear for life of political leaders after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27 last year and the attack on a rally of the Awami National Party in Charsadda earlier this month
The severity of the bad law and order situation can be gauged from the fact that the government has declared 19,000 polling stations sensitive, out of 64,175 polling stations set up all over the country.
The Pakistan Muslim League (Q) had started its campaign when it was in power, even before the announcement of schedule for the election to be held on January 8, which was postponed to February 18.
Later, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) also launched its media campaign in a big way, but it was no match to that of the PML-Q’s in intensity. It seems that the former ruling party has huge money in its coffers.
The Centre for Civic Education Pakistan has claimed that the PML-Q spent over Rs175 million on TV advertisements of 105 hours over the past three months. This coverage is more than the time bought by all political parties combined.
The Pakistan People’s Party put off its media campaign, as well as election rallies, till the ‘chehlum’ of Benazir Bhutto. Because the PPP is riding on a sympathy wave created by the assassination of its leader, it has not focused much on the media for its election campaign. Most of its advertisements appeared on inside pages with the pictures of Benazir Bhutto. Its TV ads have also shown its slain leader or her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to elicit the sympathy of voters.
The third largest party/alliance of the election 2002 — Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal/Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-F — has not spent much on its media campaign.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has relied on public meetings and hoardings and banners because the party has an army of organised and committed workers. Its campaign is based on its performance in the Sindh government and the two years of city governments in Karachi and Hyderabad, the latter being the focal point.
It has spent almost nothing on its election campaign through the media.
Recently an ‘advertisement supplement’ of four pages had appeared in the national dailies highlighting the ‘good deeds’ Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan and Karachi Nazim Mustafa Kamal have done for the province and the city, respectively.
Then another ‘advertisement supplement’ of six pages highlighted the achievements of the Karachi city government.
In addition to this, almost daily an advertisement appears in newspapers recounting the performance of the city government. The expenses of all these advertisements are borne obviously by the government.
A leading Urdu daily published two ‘special issues’ of four pages and six pages each praising the Sindh governor and Karachi Nazim for their achievements. The articles that appeared in the second issue included that of the editor of the newspaper who praised the governor.
The MQM says: “The majority of electronic media ads were monopolised by PPP, PML-N and PML-Q because of their huge cash coffers and unlimited budgets. Indeed if MQM had all that cash we would have had the largest political commercial spots on TV and by default should be buying votes in Punjab, the NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan, like rest of the parties. Thank God that we are not a part of that horrid rat race and are here to set precedents and good examples”.
The PML-Q has spent the largest amount on its media campaign. The former chief minister of Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Illahi, not deterred by the terrorist attacks, has also addressed the highest number of rallies throughout his home province and other parts of the county, including Sindh.
The public meetings of almost all major parties are covered by private TV channels.
It is alleged that some TV channels, newspapers and journalists have also covered election rallies and other activities of political parties after receiving heavy amounts under the table.
The PTV has been accused of focusing on parties that support President Pervez Musharraf and the caretaker federal government. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) has alleged in a recent report that the president and his allies are the subject of about 85 per cent of political reports, interviews and analyses.
The PTV has denied the RSF report, saying that it has clubbed the coverage of the PML-Q and the caretaker government and that the activities of the state functionaries did not fall in the category of election campaign.
But many political observers believe that the caretaker government is an extension of the previous regime because its head – Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro – is the nominee of the PML-Q.