Media Wants Headlines Against Government, Not Fodder for Reforms

Dec 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Daily Times, Ethics

Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Nadeem Ul Haque had an interesting interaction with the media recently when a reporter from a local English daily called to tell him that he was scheduled to talk against the nuclear programme at the National Defence University (NDU) on December 26. Only problem was the reporter had his facts 100 per cent wrong.

Nadeem Ul Haque was not scheduled to speak against the nuclear programme at NDU. Actually, he wasn’t scheduled to speak at all. He had been asked to speak on the Planning Commission’s (PC’s) New Growth Framework (NGF), but the event had been cancelled due to lack of interest. This interaction raised certain questions for Nadeem Ul Haque about the role that media plays in improving the status of the country – or impeding it.

I also told him that society at large and the media seem to be uninterested in reform, economic development and growth. The media needs to give more attention to these issues alongside security and other issues. Unless a society takes interest in reform, it will not happen. Pakistani intellectual space, which is fuelled daily by the media, is too preoccupied with issues other than economic development. Because of this, economic reform remains little understood. Unless this changes, there will be no economic development in the coming years.

Despite the need for investigative journalism and informative articles on issues of development and economic reform, the media appears fixated on headlines against the government, he wrote. If there are problems with policies or reforms, why not write about those problems so that they can be fixed? Rather, the media only takes the issues as the basis for political attacks against whoever happens to be in government at the time.

I keep telling the media that our mindset is not the result of the policy or views of any one government. I know they want a headline against the current establishment. Consequently, I tell them that all governments regardless of creed and origin have avoided serious governance/civil service reform. All have failed to change the paradigm on market competition. No government has attempted to use public service delivery to underpin our governance approach. No government has reviewed our current approach to urban development that produces a sprawl. This government has adopted the NGF, which is taking up these issues. Let the media review the NGF! But then why blame governments? Society also unveils its preferences through discussion and debate. Our intellectuals’ efforts, evident in the media, display little interest in these crucial issues. Countries seeking development spend a far larger proportion of their public debate on crucial development issues than we do.

As we wrote on Sunday,

“The media serves a function in a democratic society other than simply ‘infotainment’. We rely on the media to inform us of facts and developments related to the most important issues of society so that we can make informed decisions about how to transform the country.”

If reporters are hunting for headlines against the government with utter disregard to whether their stories are factual or in any way useful to the country, they are failing in an important responsibility as journalists. Issues and policies should be investigated and reported, but that is not mean that such reports should be turned into political attacks. Media needs to focus its energy on helping the nation achieve reforms and stop selling it for sensational headlines.

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