Saturday, October 16, 2010

Governance Issues in Media

Session I: Electronic Media
Concurrent Session B-7

The speakers said there is a massive communication gap between the citizens and the local governments despite efforts by the National Reconstruction Bureau to rectify it through its Governance and Media Cell. They urged a strong local media involvement for awareness about the local government system.

Media analyst Jehanzeb Aziz, in his paper, Gaps between governance and the masses: the case of devolution plan, analysed the National Reconstruction Bureau's media strategy and its impacts. He called for more independent, fair and objective studies to bridge the information gaps between the devolution plan and the citizens.He shared that the NRB has equipped itself with many diversified tasks. The organization, though a part of the Prime Minister's Secretariat, does not have a practical, executable plan for advocacy and education regarding its role and functions.

According to his presentation, the Media and Governance Cell, devised to bridge the gap in governance issues among masses, keep people abreast of different activities going on at tehsil and district levels and dispel false impressions against the devolution process, has not been able to perform these functions.He said only 12 percent of the people are aware of the local government system, 23 percent how nazims are elected, while a bare 2 percent have knowledge about Citizen Community Boards (CBOs). He said in the urban areas only 11 percent and in the rural areas 9 percent felt that the local governance was a better system. Reviewing the mass media environment in Pakistan, he said only 5.3 percent of the people have access to newspapers, and 97 percent of these only read headlines, and 21 percent read columns, which is a healthy trend. His research indicated that magazine readership among women was higher compared to males. While 50 percent have television sets, only 5 percent have access to computers. Interestingly, he found that despite a 39-percent listeners of FM radio stations, 9 percent listen to the All India Radio.

He concluded that despite the fact that a worse kind of oligarchy was being created with the devolution system, it was still a good system. He stressed that the media needed to take greater ownership of the process to carry it to the people. “An independent, fair and objective study is required to know how much progress has actually taken place.” Syed Abdul Siraj Ahmed, from the Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan, in his paper, Post-modernism and the mass media, gave a comparative analysis of the pre and post-modernist media. He discussed how post-modernist society had become a visual society dominated by media reality. “We are living in a three-minute culture because reality is littered with video footage, computer games, advertising, film, television images and photographs.”

He discussed how post-modernism was a set of literary and cultural movements emerging after the collapse of the division between the elite and mass/common cultures. He said the speed of communications had brought about the concept of “here and now”. He felt that the remote control had given more control to the audience in the communication process. Siraj cited this as a key reason behind fragmentation and segmentation in the society. “This cauterization of audience has changed the very definition of mass communication.” Tragically, now more emphasis was on style rather than the substance and content. His presentation highlighted how advertising techniques are used to make or break a company, irrespective of the quality of the product. “A poor product can be successful due to great advertising while an excellent product can fail. People get influenced by brands when they buy things.”

Matiullah Jan’s paper, District governance and the role of FM radio, recommended that given the regulatory laws regarding coverage of public service messages, the districts should make best use of the FM radio channels. He said the district governments and FM radio were both a new phenomenon at the grassroots. He felt that FM radio would be the ultimate tool of empowering people. “Aggressive news reporting, interviews, debates and discussions by an FM radio station will put life into an otherwise dull system of local governments.” He said a local FM radio could be a powerful instrument to bring people back to participatory democracy and draw them out of their houses on polling days.

He identified various departments/sections (CBO activities) of the district government set up that ought to be covered by FM radio reporters to keep the community well informed. Matiullah said the lacunas in the laws and by-laws of the district council legal framework prevented journalists from obtaining information and for this there was need for greater transparency on the part of nazims. Media personnel should have access to union council proceedings, he recommended. The website launched by NRB to facilitate free flow of information was only used as an advertising tool to glorify the nazims, he said, and called for bringing the public into the mainstream political discourse. The discussant, Eamoinn Taylor, head of Development Section at DFID, reiterated that electronic media needed to work aggressively and strategically to bridge the gaps, as the government bodies failed to inform the public about the devolution process.

He felt it was important for the state and the media to involve the citizens, adding that it was disheartening the citizens had such little information about CBOS, bodies designed specifically to work for them. He called for structural and behavioral reforms to move from “notions of tabedaree (submission) to notions of barabaree (egalitarianism).” In the brief plenary, it was suggested to discuss and debate the issue of the “tyranny of reportage” under a military rule as well. A participant questioned how Pakistan could be called a country living in the post-modern era since we were neither a text age nor an audio visual one, given the rate of rising illiteracy. Moneeza Hashmi of PTV, Pakistan, chaired the session.