Info Ministry in evolving media landscape

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Abdul Rashid Shakir

Perception building of the Government by showcasing its people-friendly policies through public diplomacy and persuasive communication by employing various tools like press releases, press notes, media talks, seminars and panel discussions; and project­ing softer image of the country by leveraging its rich reposito­ry of arts & literature, culture & cuisine, history & heritage, hospitality & tourism, and to­pography & landscape by mak­ing use of different techniques of effective communication are the primary responsibilities of public sector media prac­titioners, working under the guidelines of Ministry of Infor­mation & Broadcasting.

Their responsibilities also include determining stall val­ue of publications; be they dailies, weeklies, fortnight­lies, monthlies, biannual or annual; and issuing them ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) certificates accordingly, cat­egorizing TV channels based on their viewership and pen­etration in the public, man­aging public sector advertise­ments on behalf of the Federal Government through Public Sector Advertisement Policy to get best value for public money spent for the purpose by ensuring maximum me­dia coverage. Additionally, on behalf of the Federal Govern­ment, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is obliged to coordinate with and trouble­shoot issues of journalists op­erating in print, electric, social and digital media; liaise with press clubs and media rep­resentative bodies like APNS (All Pakistan Newspaper So­ciety), CPNE (Council of Paki­stan Newspaper Editors), PBA (Pakistan Broadcasters As­sociation), PAA (Pakistan Ad­vertisers Association, PFUJ (Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists), APNEC (All Pa­kistan Newspaper Employees Confederation) and others.

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Managing administra­tive affairs of public sector broadcasters like Pakistan Television (PTV), Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and Shalimar Record­ing & Broadcasting Compa­ny (SRBC) besides those of the public sector wire ser­vice, Associated Press of Pa­kistan (APP). Moreover, act­ing as a watchdog for print and electronic media in the light of their respective ethical code of conduct through Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEM­RA) respectively, besides ex­ercising control on media pro­duction through the Central Board of Films Censor (CBFC) also comes under the purview of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. And arguably perhaps one of its core func­tions is to build and promote a softer image of Pakistan in­ternationally as an attractive trade and tourism hub, in sync with our foreign policy ob­jectives, by exploring various tools of public and cultural di­plomacy. 

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Once upon a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s when there were very few media outlets in the country both in the public and private sectors, this role was quite easy to per­form both by the public sector media practitioners and their governing ministry, the Min­istry of Information & Broad­casting. But with the opening up of private media outlets, especially after PEMRA Ordi­nance 2002, and the onslaught of social media, especially with the huge penetration of Face­book, X, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn and other similar platforms in 2000s and 2010s, this task has become much more challenging rather embarrassing sometimes.

Digital and social media plat­forms have gained much trac­tion especially in the youth which constitute some 65-68% of our more than 240 mil­lion population. Social media, one of the important means of interpersonal communication, has become a tool for manipu­lation in the modern tech-sav­vy world. As of January 2023, there were 71.7 million social media users out of the total 87.35 million internet users in the country. Therefore, social media has emerged as a robust tool of online communication and narrative building. It has enhanced our outreach by en­abling us to share content on­line with a wider audience. Its platforms like Facebook, In­stagram, Snapchat, YouTube, X and others have revolution­ized our social interaction be­haviour, and are fast-changing trends and agendas on matters ranging from environment and politics to technology and en­tertainment. Our ways of gath­ering and disseminating infor­mation along with our social interaction patterns have sig­nificantly changed because of the ubiquitous presence of so­cial media in our lives. But un­fortunately, the Ministry lacks proper paraphernalia to han­dle this ever-evolving media landscape. Despite tremen­dous growth of print, electron­ic, digital and social media out­lets, the ministry is still trying to fire-fight day-to-day cover­age and promotion of various Government policies aimed at socioeconomic development of people with its traditional human resource base and re­sources.