Newspapers should endorse political parties
Against all odds, democracy has officially arrived in Pakistan. A transition of power is about to take place between two democratically elected governments and the Pakistani people have the power to elect their representatives in Islamabad. This is a watershed moment in the country’s history; one that Pakistani voters are dreadfully unprepared for.
It takes time for democratic traditions to take root in a society. One of the most important aspects of a democratic culture is for citizens to know who to vote for and for what reason. At the moment, it appears that most Pakistanis are making their voting decision with their hearts instead of their heads.
Let’s take the case of young, educated, urban voters as an example. Most of these voters are leaning towards joining a tsunami of hope because “every other leader has been tried” and it’s time to give a chance to someone new. This line of argument may appeal to the heart when one is disillusioned with the state of affairs in Pakistan. However, this isn’t a very strong, rational argument to vote for someone. This is analogous to leaving the fate of a loved one in the hands of a doctor that has never been tested and doesn’t have experience on a particular procedure, but should be given a chance because “everyone else has been tried”. There are many solid, logical reasons to join the tsunami but this isn’t one of them. Unfortunately, the solid, logical reasons to join the tsunami aren’t being talked about enough and this is a loss for the country as a whole.
This is exactly why the Pakistani media needs to do a better job when making analytical comparisons between the manifestos of different political parties ahead of the upcoming elections. Unless we have ready access to the analysis needed to make an informed voting decision, most Pakistani voters will cast their ballot with their hearts instead of their heads.
Making an informed voting decision isn’t as difficult as we imagine it to be. As a start, Pakistani newspapers could simply create a table which lists key national priorities in one row (for example, terrorism, economy, foreign policy, law and order, education, etc) and in one column list down all the political parties in Pakistan. This table then needs to be populated with each political party’s position on a particular issue. This table can be tabulated with the help of party representatives and as a fall back option, by newspaper editors. This will immediately give visibility to Pakistani voters on where each political party stands on issues that matter to them.
I’d like to go a step further and argue that the Pakistani media, particularly the editorial teams at newspapers, should endorse political parties on the basis of such analysis as a means to inform (not necessarily influence) citizens with their position. This is a controversial proposition but one that Pakistani voters could benefit from.
The editorial pages in Pakistani newspapers have spent the last five years lecturing elected representatives on how they should do their jobs better. Come Election Day, editorial teams should step up their game by endorsing candidates for public office and transparently share their decision-making process for the benefit of Pakistani citizens. On May 11, 2013, Pakistani voters will have to choose between candidates A, B and C. They might wish there was an option D but they’ll have to choose between the options they have and editorial teams should be held up to the same standard. In short, Pakistani newspapers need to spark editorial conversations that focus on informing and educating rather than simply criticising.
This can become a controversial proposition because it could potentially compromise editorial impartiality and open the doors to inappropriate exchange of favours between media outlets and political parties. However, these cautions will persist even if Pakistani newspapers aren’t forced to endorse political parties. The process of having to endorse political parties and justify these endorsements on the basis of analysing party positions on national issues will only add more transparency to election coverage and educate Pakistani voters on national issues in a more meaningful manner.
Source: The Express Tribune