President Dr Arif Alvi has advised media industry to stop relying on the government advertisements for economic survival and define new business models. While terming media as the fourth pillar of state, the President acknowledged the important role being played by media in highlighting social, economic, health and educational issues. The President said that media is playing a crucial role in strengthening democratic culture and values. He appreciated the role played by media to safeguard democracy by bringing forth facts related to political developments.
The President said this while addressing a convention here on 'Media and Democracy: Towards Free, Independent, Sustainable Media in Pakistan,' organised by Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE). The President further said that media is successfully fulfilling its responsibility of informing, educating and entertaining the masses professionally as well as responsibly.
While talking about current challenges being faced by print media, President Alvi said, "Print Media is facing multitude nature of challenges at present including the one posed by social media." Alvi added that the younger generation is hooked more to social media than print publications. "However, opinion makers still rely on print media for opinion making."
Emphasising the need for developing independent media business models, the President said sustaining media businesses should be based on self-reliance rather than depending on government advertisements.
As the office-bearers of CPNE had criticised the media policies of incumbent government mainly related to stringent regulations being introduced to suppress free speech, Dr Alvi responded that there are only two ways to regulate the irresponsible contents. "Best option is self-regulation - the other way is government regulation, at the same time unaccountable freedom too is not correct, while too much government control and managing media over sensitive issues too will fail to materialise," the President said. He further said media freedom is a fundamental right but it should be exercised with responsibility and self-regulation and not censorship by authorities. "We believe in freedom of press but we also believe in responsibility of the press that nobody can dilute," he added.
Dr Alvi also suggested that CPNE should discuss the issues faced by them with the government to devise a way out of current crisis faced by media. He said that the government and the media owners should sit together to set regulatory framework for the media.
He requested media to help the government in dealing with health crisis, malnutrition and on women rights especially on giving them share in inherited property. "Media should support government on such issues by allocating considerable space and time for public awareness like lack of inheritance rights to almost 90 percent of women in Pakistan," he said and hinted at conferring award to media outlets allocating maximum space to public service messages on social issue.
Addressing the convention, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary urged the media to pursue the narrative that is in the country's economic interests, saying that the media's sustainability is also linked with the economic sustainability of the country. The minister said foreign investment of billions of rupees is pouring into the country with Saudi Arabia setting up the third largest oil refinery in Pakistan but the media has not given due coverage to it.
He said China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is the backbone of the economy of Pakistan. The minister accused Pakistani media of buying the western narrative which is anti-CPEC and anti-Pak-China relations on sometimes. The information minister said that the government believes in openness and is doing away with visa restrictions for the citizens of 66 countries. He said the media at this juncture should stand by the government. "Media opposing Basant is not doing any service to the nation but discouraging inflow of tourists and investments," he added.
Referring to the problems of media industry, Chaudhary asked the CPNE to prepare a report on the current financial crisis faced by media. "The federal government has given advertisements worth Rs 300-350 million in one month but retrenchment continues in media. We all need to know what the reasons are for this financial crunch in media industry," he said. Talking about the advertisement campaigns, he estimated that approximately Rs 2.7 billion was spent in digital media marketing.
"The [share of] digital advertising in the industry will be Rs 7 billion in the next five years," the minister said and urged the print media to develop its digital versions. "We need to create a feel-good factor as the economy cannot boost without it," said the minister. He said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led federal government fully stands shoulder to shoulder with the media workers and extends full support to them. However, ultimately the media will have to emerge as a sustainable model ending dependence on the government.
Speaking on the occasion, former Information Minister Maryam Aurangzaib said that at present importance of media has been linked with advertisements, adding the difference between media workers and media house owners is by design. She suggested the information minister to set up media workers' training institute. She said control over the economy of any institution means one is controlling the organisation. In the earlier sessions, the convention witnessed discussions on the future of print and electronic media and the experts observed that the growth of digital media is imminent and media houses should focus on it too.
It was stressed that the best way to differentiate between fake news and correct news would be enhanced outreach by media houses at digital platform.
Addressing on the occasion, President CPNE Arif Nizami said that the government should come up with an effective policy to support media in the current recession times. He said that advertisements were not given on merit in the past. He viewed that a democratic media would be more beneficial for the country as both media and democracy should sail and sink together.
General Secretary CPNE Abdul Jabbar Khattak apprised the audience of the objectives of the convention that analysed the issues faced by media industry in different sessions attended by representatives from all stakeholders. He said the media convention also emphasised the ethical use of freedom of press and that a draft code of conduct has also been formulated that would also be shared with the government.
Most of the speakers in interactive sessions criticised the government for the apparent pressures on media and idea of establishing a media regulatory authority allegedly to manage media contents. Earlier, President ALvi also conferred lifetime achievement awards to journalists including Mehmoodul Aziz, Yousuf Shaheen, Abid Sanaullah, Anwar Sajidi, Zia Shahid, Ajmal Dehlvi and M Ziauddin. The CPNE president also presented a shield to President Alvi.