Karachi: The threats of banned outfits did not affect the results of May 11, 2103 general elections in Pakistan, while the local media, overall, played a positive role in covering these important polls, said speakers of a moot.
The roundtable on ‘Politics of Conflict’ was organized by Pakistan press Foundation (PPF) here Saturday evening to present two research reports and take an effective stock of the prevailing situation to see trends of national and vernacular press in covering the general elections.
The first research reports was about the in-depth content analysis of news coverage of the violence from the day elections were announced on 22ndMarch to 25th May, two weeks after the election, and the second about the content analysis of selected media outlets to indicate the challenges that regional media has been facing since long, and also to examine how local newspapers, radio and TV reported on and analyzed threats, security arrangements and the impact of violence during the election. Sheerin Soomro of Pakistan Press Foundation presented the reports.
The speakers said that before the May 11 general elections the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had openly threatened to attack three major secular parties, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP), but this threat did not influence the results of polls. The PPP and MQM both got thumping victory in their traditional constituencies in Sindh province. Though in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province the ANP did not fare well but it was not due to the TTP threat but due to the massive corruption of last ANP provincial government.
Had the TTP threat any affect on the poll result the religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam- Fazl (JUI-F) had swept the polls in KPK, but instead Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan, another liberal party, got majority seats in the KPK, proving that the TTP threat did not influence the poll results.
They said different factors affected the extent and quality of the media coverage of election process. Advertisements, especially paid advertisements of political parties, killed a lot of news content. The Election Commission of Pakistan did not take notice of this issue, and also no one knows about the actual amount of advertisement-related money that changed hands during the whole electioneering campaign, but the ultimate casualty remained the news content.
Many rules and codes were devised about how to cover the elections, but generally they were not followed strictly due to the lack of check and balance mechanisms. The element of violence was observed during the election process. It is yet to be determined how much violence was purely election-oriented and how much ‘general violence’ prevailing in Pakistani society. However, in some cases the coverage of violence during the polls overshadowed the actual coverage of polls and many polls-related issues could not be discussed properly in both print and electronic media.
The independent media of Pakistan must have to play its due role. This independent media should not try to replicate the ‘state-run media’. The government-controlled media has its own restriction, while the beauty of the independent media is to tell people truth without any compromise on principles. The right of people to access to information should not be compromised in the name of any code of conduct. If the independent media does not tell people the truth it would only result in spread of rumours, which is even more dangerous for the society. There has already been a vibrant social media in Pakistan which anyway tells the real story. Formation of codes of conduct cannot be given up, but they should be made cautiously, so that the right of access to information may not be hit.
In Pakistan both media and terrorists give more focus to the urban areas. The media gives more coverage to these urban centers because of more readership and viewership and the terrorists blast bombs in urban cities to get more destruction, more impact, and more media coverage.
The standard of the coverage of elections should be assessed keeping in mind the prevailing standards of the society and its media. The election coverage benchmarks of the USA and UK cannot be applied on the election coverage in Pakistan. However, Pakistani journalists, especially reporters of the remote rural areas, despite their lack of proper education and training, covered the election in a comprehensive way, which shows the growing maturity of Pakistani media.
The local media, both print and electronic, particularly in Sindh province, gave in-depth analysis of all phase of elections including pre and post election phases. The coverage of elections in KPK and Balochistan, however, needs further improvement. In both the provinces different pressure groups including militants, separatists and agencies created problems for journalists; however, still then the media of Balochistan and KPK worked bravely in this difficult circumstance. In Balochistan the role of ECP also remained restricted. The ECP had its own office only in Quetta, while in other districts the ECP officials worked in the offices of district administration.
In Karachi the media played a fine role in coverage of elections. Due to this role even the chief election commissioner had to admit that he failed to conduct free and fair polls in Karachi and due to this role re-elections were ordered in the constituencies where rigging was unearthed by the media.
The proactive role of political parties is necessary to reduce tension and polarization on society; the growing role of Pakistani middle class in also affecting the overall political scenario. There is a need of training journalists and political workers to further improve the election process and its coverage.
Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad, former federal secretary, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said different stakeholders including politicians and officials violated the rules during the election process. He said the televised speech of Mian Nawaz Sharif on the elections day evening also affected the results. He said the role of many returning officers also remained questionable. He said the address of a former chief justice to the returning officers was unprecedented and may have affected the poll results.
M Zahid Islam chairperson TDEA-Fafen said so far only 10 percent results of election tribunals are issued, while majority of polls-related petitions lack strong evidences. He said the Pakistani society is becoming a consumer society. Its proof is the vote bank of religious parties that further shrunk in the recent general elections. Similarly, the vote bank of nationalist parties has almost vanished.
Overall, the ‘ideological vote’ in Pakistan is on decrease, which is the sign of a consumer society. Due to the positive role of media those parties got a big boost in the general election that believed in consumer market society. The defects of the election system are not due to the media but due to the shortcomings of ECP.
Mudassar Rizvi , CEO of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) said telling people facts should be the main responsibility of media. The totality of information could not be restricted in the name of codes.
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) Secretary General Owais Aslam Ali said during the coverage of last elections many achievements’ of media were also noted; re-polling in some constituencies one of them. He said the important issue of politics of conflict was discussed threadbare in the moot. He said another report on the subject would be presented in Karachi soon.
Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas was the moderator, while Younis Bandhani of Banh Beli, Aafia Salam, Zofeen Ebrahim, Idress Bakhtiar, Faisal Aziz Khan, Naseer Ahmed Salimi, Zahid Hussain, Saeed Khawar, Khalid Ahmed, Arif Yousafzai and Shafqat Soomro also spoke.