Information Welfare

Jan 20th, 2010 | By | Category: Uncategorized

An open and transparent government is a hallmark of democracy. The people must have proper information about government officials and public policy in order to elect the politicians that best represent their interests. But government information must also be looked at through the proper amount of skepticism. Historically, governments have engaged in propaganda to make themselves look better, rather than giving the whole truth to the citizens.

With this in mind, I was encouraged by Minister of Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira’s column in today’s Daily Times. The Minister does a good job of describing the importance of access to information as well as noting several actions that the present government has taken to try to improve access to important information, particularly among IDPs and other vulnerable communities.

I thought the Minister’s column was particularly good reading for media companies who at times have trouble separating facts from political agendas. Take this statement by the Minister:

By choosing information warfare during the Afghan jihad, the involved actors, in fact, produced their own gravediggers. Short-term gains were made at the expense of long-term ones for governments, societies and peoples, which resulted in a huge loss of credibility and legitimacy.

When media outlets like newspapers and TV anchors report wild conspiracy theories that are perhaps more sensational and thus get bigger ratings, they undermine their own credibility and sow confusion among the people, ultimately playing into the hands of the people who are attacking Pakistan.

Talibani militants don’t care about Zaid Hamid or Ahmed Quraishi or any of the other conspiracy wallahs except that they’re probably pretty happy that they’re on the air. During the Cold War, USSR called people like that “useful idiots.” Talibans know that if the people are confused and distracted with fantastic tales of complicated global conspiracies, it will be that much easier to indoctrinate them into the militant ideology.

Suicidal mindsets are driven by ideology and not by mere information packaging. Hence, ideology has to be defeated by ideology. Instead of information warfare, we need democratic, argumentative and critical discourses, which are firmly located in the socio-economic, cultural and political issues of Pakistan, guided by our heritage of ideologies of peace, pluralism, and co-existence.

This is where the Minister hits the nail on the head, as they say.

Who is our real enemy? Our enemy is extremist ideology. How do we dismantle it? By discrediting it and providing alternatives for our audiences. What are our alternatives? They are democratic dialogue, access to information, freedom of expression and opportunity of peaceful political representation.

This is the best explanation of why a free and independent media is so important. The Minister seems to understand this well, and concludes with an excellent offer to the media that again makes the point that a successful democracy requires a healthy media.

Pakistan’s democratic government is committed to promote freedom of expression and access to information in the greater public interest. But democracy, like communication, is a two-way street. To deliver on its promise, the democratic government needs the support of an informed citizenry that can not only identify problems but can also offer solutions for good governance. Our efforts must become collaborative.

Obviously, the media must retain its independence and be able to criticize the government, which governments never like. But it is a good sign that the government extends this hand of friendship to the media. Certainly the Interior Minister’s call for an inquiry into the harassment of Dawn journalist Azaz Syed is also a good sign.

If the conspiracy wallahs used their platform to provide “information welfare” that helps the people rather than confuses them, imagine the potential for positive change that could come.

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