It’s all about the marketing
On my flight to Europe last week, the young man seated next to me raised a subject that is very close to my heart. He works in media, specialising in building images of nations, personalities, governments, corporations and the like. The six hour journey was over too soon.
He enthralled me with the highlights of some projects he’d been associated with across a valuable cross-section of our world. From taking mental notes, I quickly pulled out my iPad and started jotting down stuff. It was soon obvious that we in Pakistan have not even touched on this topic in the real sense. When he told me that he knew some young Pakistanis working in London and Europe well, the question of what Pakistan should do to fight the losing public relations battle became the epicentre of discussion.
Apparently his Pakistani friends had been asking him the very same question. Forced onto the defensive in countries and cultures alien to them, these young people were looking for ways and means to counter the negative perceptions being created around them by happenings in Pakistan, sometimes even non-happenings that were being belligerently touted by both local and international media.
So how does Pakistan portray its real self rather than the portrait painted and on exhibition becomes the moot point and how should generic government restructure or define its media policy? What one imagines is the topic of a long drawn out thesis, reveals itself to be addressable, to some extent fairly easily, given the will. The first and foremost step could be to establish a high quality PR team both in terms of human resource and allied tools.
For years I have been querying the necessity of an information ministry, popularly known as the disinformation ministry, in my writings. The first question put to me referred to its functions and usefulness. The answer is quite simple. It serves as the handmaiden of the government. Unfortunately, being poorly staffed, the limited capacity just creates more confusion. Patronage of some happy journalists, control of media owing to advertisements etc makes it a coercive tool with little or no results. In sixty plus years, no real benefits have accrued although the leader of the day may have enjoyed the sycophancy.
“Who portrays the Pakistani nation? I mean who or what organisation is responsible for building the image? Of providing an insight to the wonderful natural endowments.” I was nonplussed by this question. Struggling with a fading memory, I came up with some lame duck answer about a very valuable documentary produced eight years ago on the occasion of an economic summit organised then by the current foreign minister Ms Khar in her capacity as deputy finance minister. That’s all I could think of. If anyone reading this knows of more, please do let me know.
During the course of our discussion, we very quickly agreed that even the basic tools to create and then implement an image booster for Pakistan are sadly lacking in the current structure. But we were also in positive agreement that the wherewithal to do so was available in abundance, even within the country, although financial constraints may have made it out of reach. So a fresh look at the entire subject ensued.
It didn’t take him long to convince me to do away with the information ministry. All it does is promote a lack of credibility; it is a negative bias. The free press in Pakistan is vibrant and recent years have removed its shackles. Perhaps, it too requires to be governed by responsible covenants agreed upon by all. The absence of defamation laws or their implementation has allowed the media to be highly speculative, and the emergence of the electronic media brings this factor to an even larger swathe of the population.
The American model focuses on ‘The Spokesperson’. This official is an expert in the field of information dissemination with high intellect, excellent connections and respect within the journalistic community. He or she heads the Press corps established in the White House. Which in effect means that the publications and news agencies assign a reporter to cover all activities and these persons have offices there with complete access to the Spokesman. So if rumours abound in the market, they can immediately ascertain the veracity or have access to the government’s viewpoint. Of course, they may disagree with this and publish the fact, BUT not without due reference.
The Pakistani model looks at placing the most trusted ally in this office, or at the MinInfo regardless of the capability or capacity. The result: utter fiasco. In the FO, we use a mid-career bureaucrat who can speak fairly well. No experience in media management is required. Another disaster. Other ministries are assigned press information officers; mid-level career bureaucrats who through the years have become chummy with some journalists. This is the 21st century, you don’t really expect to manage national image in this way do you?
I was introduced to an investment banker who met Pakistan’s finance minister a couple of weeks ago. The guy couldn’t stop praising the FM; his acumen and intellect. He was impressed with the statistics on growth and exports, especially the financial growth of the rural economy. “The guy really wants to do something, is doing something. Why doesn’t anyone know of this? Why doesn’t his PR team project all of this?” I looked down and said, “He doesn’t have one”. No wonder we are in a constant tailspin fighting rearguard image battles.
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