'Trust Deficit' a Self Fulfilling Prophecy?

Aug 17th, 2010 | By | Category: Foreign Media

Pakistan is suffering from the worst disaster in recent history, said UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon as he witnessed the devastation himself. Still, many commentators have noticed that except for the US and UK, most nations have not offered much in the way of humanitarian relief. A popular notion in the media has blamed this on a ‘trust deficit’ where donor nations do not ‘trust’ the government to use the money wisely. The question should be asked, though, how much of this ‘trust deficit’ is based on reality, and how much is a media creation.

Yesterday’s edition of Tonight with Najam Sethi perpetuated this narrative that there is a ‘trust deficit’ that is keeping people from donating to help flood victims as the donors believe the government is corrupt.

Another example is found in yesterday’s Daily Times article by Muhammad Akram which claims that aid money from Tehran is not appearing because of suspicions that the 2005 earthquake relief funds were misused.

But as we previously demonstrated, the story which has been repeated that the government has ‘misused’ some funds from the 2005 earthquakes is problematic and unreliable. The fact is, there is no evidence for the author’s claims.

First, Mr Nelson’s claim is based on statements by “senior Pakistani officials”. As if taking a cue from our own media, Mr Nelson does not reveal who these supposed officials are – not even what office they allegedly hold.

Second, nowhere in Mr Nelson’s article is there any evidence presented for misuse of funds. What the reporter writes is that some anonymous “officials” (and we’ve seen how reliable anonymous officials can be) have told him that their office suffered budget cuts.

But even Mr Nelson’s own article contradicts this fact when the only named official, Finance Secretary Salman Siddique explained that the issue is not foreign aid money being diverted, but that ERRA had requested extra funds that were not available due to the country’s fiscal deficit. As for foreign aid funds, “No cuts were imposed last year,” the Finance Secretary stated.

That there may be a ‘trust deficit’ it is entirely possible, it must be admitted. According to a report in the Express Tribune today, Elizabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that “we note often an image deficit with regards to Pakistan”.

One must ask where this ‘trust deficit’ comes from, though – especially as it pertains to the present government, which is in power only since the 2008 elections.

Actually, one must put some responsibility on the media, which publishes all manner of rumours and political talking points without recognizing that this is picked up by the foreign media and spread across the world. Take for example the British newspaper quoted above, Telegraph, which published a story earlier this month with the sensational title: “Asif Ali Zardari: life and style of Pakistan’s Mr 10 Per Cent”.

This article is filled with sentences carefully qualified with phrases like “He has been accused of” and “He is also alleged to” and “He is said to”. What the article fails to include is any evidence of any actual crimes. The only thing known for certain by the article is the Asif Ali Zardari was imprisoned for over eight years, yet convicted of nothing.

So who is accusing, alleging, and saying things that create a situation in which, despite the lack of any convictions, a UN spokesperson felt the need to say that there is a ‘trust deficit’? Again, too much of these rumours and political attacks are being perpetuated by our own media.

Perhaps a reporter genuinely believes a rumour, even if he has no evidence to back it up. Perhaps he or his boss have a personal hatred for someone. Perhaps they are supporting another political party. Perhaps they are only trying to publish sensational stories that increase advertising revenue. Whatever the reason, it is still irresponsible and unethical to publish rumours and political attacks. What is worse is that the effects of such practices are longer reaching than the reporter may know.

That Pakistan is suffering cannot be denied. It is no mere rumour that we are experiencing the worst disaster in recent history. No nation – no matter how wealthy, no matter how powerful – would be able to provide all of the essential resources for humanitarian relief and reconstruction if a fifth of their country were under water. Our very survival depends on the trust between nations, and we cannot afford for irresponsibility in the government – or the media – to threaten that trust.

Trustworthy government matters. So also trustworthy media matters.

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