=> Karachi – An effective and close coverage of the e
Karachi – An effective and close coverage of the ensuing general polls would greatly help in minimising the chances of rigging, speakers told a workshop here on Friday. The workshop on “Coverage of Election 2008” was organised by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) for working journalists at a local hotel.
The speakers said many political and social circles have feared that poll rigging would be witnessed during the February 18 general polls. They said it is rightly said that mere transparent ballot boxes do not make the transparent polls, hence it is the professional and moral duty of media to keep a close vigil on the poll process to tell the nation if they are really free and fair, or otherwise. They said holding free and fair election is the basic responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan and caretaker administration. They said in the backdrop of a long history of chequered polls in the third world countries like Pakistan, it is necessary that independent stakeholders like media and civil society should closely monitor them to assess their credibility and transparency.
Pakistan Press Foundation Secretary General Owais Aslam Ali told the moot that their organisation is committed to media freedom and capacity building of working journalists in Pakistan. He said the PPF has launched a series of training workshops for journalists on election coverage in collaboration with The Asia Foundation in various parts of the country and this was the concluding workshop of the series. He said in these workshops they have trained some 2000 journalists of both print and electronic media including more than 200 females. He said they have also distributed printed material and guidelines for journalists regarding better poll coverage.
He said many networks of civil society, like the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), are also monitoring the poll process and the media should develop closer links to them for a comprehensive and coordinated monitoring of elections. Senior journalist Ariful Haq Arif said reporting is the backbone of journalism. He said for an effective coverage of polls, reporters should have an in-depth knowledge of the electoral rules and procedures. They should know the social, economic and cultural issues of their constituencies, besides the background of candidates and their political parties. He said a close eye should be kept on changes in delimitation of constituencies, transfers and posting of officials and making of voter lists. He said the poll coverage is not limited only to the polling day, but the whole process from the preparation of voter lists to the official announcement of poll results should be included in the election coverage.
Arif said the media is also an informal teacher of society and an effective social watchdog, and it should discharge its due role in raising social and political awareness amongst the masses. He said honesty, neutrality, impartiality and objectivity should be the benchmarks of effective poll coverage. He said the journalists should highlight poll irregularities, but they should not react as a party. He said there should be difference between a journalist and activist. He urged the reporters not to ‘interfere’ even when there is a poll rigging, as their duty is limited to ‘reporting’ of events, honestly and objectively.
He said the brave role of Pakistani media, especially after the introduction of electronic media, has now made it impossible for the rulers to put permanent and complete curbs on Press. He said the whole world is interested in ensuing polls in Pakistan and a large number of foreign media men and observers would also be monitoring them. He said it is an opportunity for Pakistani journalists to prove their professional worth in this competitive environment. Senior journalist Idress Bakhtiar said there are fears that the ensuing polls might turn violent in many areas. He said ensuring personal safety should be the topmost priority of the reporters covering polls in the sensitive and volatile areas. He said no news is more important than the life of its reporter. He said the media organizations should take also proper steps for the safety and security of their journalists.
He regretted that in Pakistan some media organizations had insured their cameras and equipment. He said the poll rigging is not limited to the polling day, but could be happen during any phase of the electoral process, especially during delimitation of constituencies and counting of votes. He said the constituencies in urban parts are smaller in area as compared to the rural ones, which are spread on a vast area. He said it is difficult for a reporter to cover whole constituency in rural areas alone. He suggested that reporters should focus on teamwork to cope with this kind of situation.
He said though it is generally felt that the ensuing polls would be massively rigged, but the journalists should not make a mindset in this regard before actually observing the factual position. He said the margin of poll rigging too is limited to 10 to 15 percent and it is impossible to rig the polls, completely. He said the journalists should not impose their personal feelings to distort the facts. They should strictly avoid angling and taking sides while poll coverage.
Senior journalist Sher Muhammad Khuhawar said the media is a power, but it should be used with utmost care. He said all reports about the poll coverage should be duly checked and verified before dispatching. He said the electronic media due to its fast pace and wider reach should especially focus on this aspect, as a slight error in poll reporting might lead to serious consequences. Senior journalists Fazal Qureshi, Yousaf Khan, Muqtada Mansoor, Suhail Jamali and others also spoke on the occasion.
A large number of working journalists from Karachi and various other parts of the Sindh province attended the workshop.
Source: The Nation