Government Prepares Media ‘Guidelines’
Islamabad: The government has evolved ‘guidelines’ for all federal government institutions to handle the fast-growing “independent” media.
The seven-point guidelines, a copy of which is available with Dawn, appear to focus on two factors – publicity of government plans and monitoring of contents in media, especially in the electronic media.
The prime minister’s secretariat has issued the guidelines to all ministries, divisions, departments and autonomous bodies.
The past one decade witnessed a poor government response towards media unless there was something big that had been printed or telecast and hurt the interests of a few influential people. Otherwise, it was a tough task to get a government version on a story.
The concept of a crackdown or regulating media may not be acceptable in the country anymore, but the government has evolved an innovative idea of developing a well-equipped electronic media monitoring cell in all government organisations.
The cell will monitor the electronic media round-the-clock and develop a quick response mechanism.
“Such items, which need clarification, rebuttal or explanation may be responded immediately through respective spokespersons or public relations officers of ministries/divisions,” say the guidelines.
The setting up of the cell has raised questions in terms of expenses and intentions of the government.
An official said it was not possible for each and every ministry to establish a full-fledged monitoring cell because it involved expenses. The finance ministry had already cut expenditures of the ministries and divisions in the budget 2013-14, he added.A single monitoring cell required more than 50 LCDs and several employees to run it, the official said.
An official of the press information department told Dawn that the government should establish a central monitoring cell, instead of setting up a separate cell for each and every ministry, to be managed by officials of the information ministry.
“We have experience and human resources to monitor contents of TV channel. We can then send a report to relevant ministries or division for response,” he said.
Radio Pakistan at its Islamabad station has a full-fledged monitoring cell which monitors and records contents of some renowned foreign radio stations. On the basis of these recordings, the monitoring cell prepares a report every day and distributes it among various departments. The government can do it for TV channels.
But some media experts doubt the intentions of the government, saying it may be an attempt to regulate media in case of more criticism on government policies.
The doubts sprang from the past experience of PML-N in dealing with media. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had made an abortive attempt in 2010 to get a resolution passed from the provincial assembly to regulate media.
According to the guidelines, all government entities have been asked to adopt a proactive policy in respect of responses to actionable items appearing in the print media.