Misuse of Government Ads – Editorials

EDITORIAL: A former audio clip of PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz has gone viral for its objectionable content. He can be heard telling some people – when his father Nawaz Sharif was prime minister – not to do government ads to four media houses, known to have disseminated unfriendly information and opinions towards his party. .

Asked about it at a press conference she called to reprimand a former Supreme Court chief justice based on two audio clips of questionable veracity, she admitted that her audio was genuine. Shortly after, in an apparent attempt to limit the damage, PML-N spokesman Marriyum Aurangzeb released a statement, claiming that “the conversation was about party advertisements.” This claim, however, was immediately countered by the Minister of Information, Fawad Chaudhry.

Speaking to a reporter, the minister said that in 2015-2018, the PML-N media cell led by Maryam and set up at the Prime Minister’s house handed over Rs 18 billion of government advertisements to TV stations. as well as individual journalists for pro-government articles.

According to him, the press information service file shows that “with the approval of the party media cell supervised by Maryam Nawaz, this amount of public money was used by the federal and Punjabi governments to buy support ”. Details of the media houses benefiting from this largesse were also disclosed.

Unfortunately, none of this is surprising or new. Since a large portion of print and electronic media revenue comes from government advertising, successive governments have used them as a tool to control independent members of the media, rewarding the most flexible and punishing those who refuse to follow the official line. . The practice is not only unethical; it amounts to emasculating freedom of expression, one of the fundamental values ​​of democracy.

As might be expected, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) reacted strongly to Maryam’s admission and the response of the Minister of Information, saying that the advertisements of the government should never be used to influence editorial content or to control free speech.

While condemning “all forms of coercion by a government, past or present, which has used advertising as a tool to influence editorial policy,” the PBA called for all media spending of the past 20 years to be made public, including those of the current government, also expressing its dissatisfaction with the centralized process where decisions about advertisements are made rather than by government organizations, departments and individual ministries.

In a separate statement, the APNS while expressing its “deep concern” also asked the government to publish the figures of the advertisements disseminated over the past 20 years. This government should not hesitate to do so in order to prove that its approach to media freedom is very different from that of its predecessors.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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