Government to use media to defend ‘unpopular decisions’
ISLAMABAD: The prime minister’s office has ordered heads of ministries to proactively influence the media in order to generate a favourable opinion about the recent unpopular decisions, including a steep increase in the prices of electricity and petroleum prices.
The orders are a reversal of the earlier strategy adopted by the government soon after it came to power wherein it had ordered bureaucrats to black out the media and try to control the flow of information as much as possible.
Now, however, the PM Office’s Press Wing has directed all ministries, divisions and departments to issue backgrounders, rationales and salient features of politically unpopular decisions. The orders have been sent to all the federal secretaries who are operational heads of ministries and divisions.
The directives can also be seen as an admission of the fact that the government’s media strategy, during its first five months, has failed.
“Major policy decisions in connection with the revision of petrol prices and rationalisation of electricity tariff were taken in the best national interest but […] limited information made available to the citizenry through the media cast a false impression of serving certain vested interests by the government,” reads the PM Office order.
It noted that the policy decision regarding the privatisation of public sector enterprises has been taken in principle and people must be briefed through the media about the rationale of the decision.
According to analysts, about 400,000 people could be laid off as a result of what a former finance minister, Dr Hafiz Pasha, called the “golden sale of the century”.
Regarding such steps, the order says: “These decisions are being taken keeping in view the hard economic realities and also that the general public will be looking at them favourably if they are properly briefed through the media.”
The order has asked to hold background discussions and press briefings regularly to take media persons into confidence. For conveying the government’s side of the story, the Press Wing asked ministries to substantiate the statements through facts and figures.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervaiz Rashid said interaction with the media needs to be further improved. “There is always room for improvement and transparency requires giving access to information to the media,” he added.
Responding to a question, Rashid said the government would explain the rationale behind tough economic decisions.
However, so far, the ministries of finance, water and power, petroleum and natural resources, and privatisation have kept the media at a distance. Even the bureaucracy is afraid of interacting with journalists.
According to a finance ministry official, Minister of Finance and Privatisation Ishaq Dar was following a policy of interacting more with anchorpersons than with the print media. He has not held even a single background discussion or an on-the-record briefing with economic journalists, except a few day-to-day issue-based press conferences. “Dar is yet to take the media into confidence about the IMF programme,” he said.
Another issue that was creating an image problem for the government was the negligible interaction among the ministers. Dr Ishrat Hussain, former State Bank governor, wrote in an article on Wednesday, that “the ministers do not seem to be working as an integrated team”.
Dr Hussain’s assertion is confirmed by the fact that Dar kept Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal at arm’s length and did not involve him in finalisation of the IMF programme that is now widely perceived as ‘anti-growth’.