Both advertisements and media are there to inform the public, the media about what is going on in the world of politics, art, and business, etc while advertisements are there to promote products, politics, individuals, etc, attempting to convince the masses that they should “buy” what they are saying. Advertisements have developed into a major means of income for media – newspapers, TV channels and social media alike, however, over time things have gotten out of balance.
Today media – both newspapers and TV channels – depend on the income from advertising so much that they have virtually no chance to select and in case refuse something to be or advertised and/or propagated (for political or religious or other reasons) because that would seriously inflict damage on their finances or put them on the wrong side of vested and/or motivated interest, be it govt, individual, entity, etc. One cannot watch a program in TV anymore because every few minutes there is a break for “commercials” repeating the same thing again and again so that the point that the actual program is trying to make gets lost.
But much more dangerous is another development: by now media has become dependent so much on the businesses that give them income from advertising that they are ready to compromise their independence. For example, they would not allow an opinion that is critical of the advertiser to be printed or telecast because that would damage their business. Newspapers and channels are even ready to promote, irrespective of the truth and/or propriety of, the point of view of their main advertising clients, even their political preferences. And it is not an advertiser per se a proxy through whom the revenues are moved. With that, the neutrality of the media and the veracity of their information is compromised. Multinationals cannot be criticized for incorrect behavior, bad service, unfavorable side effects of products or any other issues because if so the newspaper printing the critique would not get any business from that client anymore. In such case, the media is abusing its very task of neutral information. In fact, that is using “hard power” to promote “soft power”. Taken together, that what is known as “smart power”, is an integral part of conducting hybrid warfare.
Another aspect of the business from advertising that those are aired or printed these days also abuse their information commitment by giving hardly any information about the subject with but just try to create a want in the prospective customers by creating shiny and overly positive images. In a country with about half of the population living below and on the poverty line this is an extremely dangerous situation. Shiny ads create wants in poor people that cannot afford those products (and most of the time don’t need them). They start thinking of how to get hold of the money for what is advertised as being almost indispensable with ugly results. Beggars refusing to take fifty rupees but demanding to be given a Pizza instead. Women use the hundred rupees given to them for purchase milk instead use the money for uploading their mobiles. The mobile telephones are a necessity in today’s world but only 5% of the time, 95% of the time paid for is a not necessary but “talking without reason” (TWR) makes for the gross revenues.
‘Naya Pakistan’ must limit the advertising unhealthy food and drinks, etc checking the veracity of claims made by the advertising companies will give the unsuspecting consumers protection from false promises. It should not be forgotten that the expenses for ads and other promoting initiatives of a product or service are recovered by the company from the customers via an enhanced price and are paid by the consumer. In a country with so much poverty prices should not be artificially enhanced. Similarly, those using the media to spread lies for political purposes must be controlled. Consider the many articles against NAB officials who are investigating known corruption cases against known corrupt politicians and their sons and brothers, wives, uncles, nephews, in-laws, etc. How many of them were not involved in the loot of Pakistan? Does it behoove newspapers and/or the electronic media to run campaigns to let their crimes go unpunished? And what do you think of a “democracy” where an elected Parliament passes resolutions to enable the corrupt to escape justice?
A major step that has to be taken is to restore the independence of media so that they are able to fulfill their task to critically and reliably inform the public about problems and give room to dissenting voices and regain objectivity. For that, both the owners of the media houses have a responsibility to the citizens of Pakistan.
The writer is a defense and security analyst