Absence of Pakistani journalists from Ufa helped projection of Indian viewpoint | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Absence of Pakistani journalists from Ufa helped projection of Indian viewpoint

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continues to avoid Pakistani media during his foreign visits, as seen also during his recent visit to Russia where he held an important meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

For some observers, it led to the success of Mr Modi, who kept the meeting, according to the communiqué issued after the meeting, focused on the Mumbai terror attacks and terrorism afflicting the region, but also of the Indian media which, in its coverage, successfully built the narrative in their country’s favour.

Pushed on the back foot as far as media coverage of the meeting is concerned, Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and other government functionaries have been seen over the past few days explaining the main content of the talks between the two prime ministers.

The moment the meeting ended in the Russian town of Ufa on Friday, Indian media started depicting it as a victory of PM Modi for highlighting the Mumbai terror attacks in the joint statement which contained no mention of Kashmir and tension along the Line of Control and the working boundary from the Pakistan side.

While Pakistani media was literally struggling to know what actually transpired during the meeting, TV reporters from India were having a field day, providing live coverage of the huddle.

Left with no option, many Pakistani TV channels relied on comments by Indian journalists and others opted for telecasting footage from Indian channels. Local media had to wait until the formal release of the joint statement to bring in their analysts to discuss the deliberations.

Dozens of print and electronic media personnel were reported to have accompanied the Indian prime minister. On the other hand, there was none from Pakistan, except a mid-ranking official of the information ministry who kept on feeding tickers to TV channels back home with occasional photographs, which made no sense considering the high-profile meeting.

What was the reason behind the absence of Pakistani media from the event? Was it the prime minister office’s lack of interest in such an important diplomatic development?

According to Information Minister Parvez Rashid, who is also spokesperson for the prime minister, the government neither encouraged local journalists to join the PM during his foreign trips nor discouraged them from doing so because as a policy decision “we have stopped financially supporting private media”.

Explaining the policy, he told Dawn that taking planeloads of journalists with the prime minister during his foreign visits was a common practice in the past which would result in heavy spending of public funds. “To discourage this practice, we have told media houses that the government will facilitate travel arrangements of their reporters only in terms of visa processing and entry passes to the venues of meetings and their organisations will have to bear financial expenditures.”

When it was pointed out that the information ministry had recently stopped informing media organisations about the PM’s foreign travel plans, the minister said that foreign engagements of the prime minister were always announced in advance and, therefore, media houses themselves should contact the ministry if they were interested in covering them.

“Until and unless we are officially told about such visits, how can anyone approach the ministry in this regard,” a senior journalist said.

An official of the prime minister office said that the absence of Pakistan media from Ufa had been duly noticed at the highest level.

Admitting that the Indians had been able to build a better narrative on the outcome of the meeting primarily because of effective media handling, he said that the responsibility of media management of the prime minister’s activities rested with the information minister.

“Unlike the PPP government, the ruling PML-N has always been cagey in sharing information with journalists. Therefore, mandarins of the ministry don’t bother to reach out to media, until there are special instructions,” the official said.