Pakistan’s PR crisis | Pakistan Today

Pakistan’s PR crisis

It’s all about the marketing

On my flight to Europe last week, the young man seated next to me raised a subject that is very close to my heart. He works in media, specialising in building images of nations, personalities, governments, corporations and the like. The six hour journey was over too soon.

He enthralled me with the highlights of some projects he’d been associated with across a valuable cross-section of our world. From taking mental notes, I quickly pulled out my iPad and started jotting down stuff. It was soon obvious that we in Pakistan have not even touched on this topic in the real sense. When he told me that he knew some young Pakistanis working in London and Europe well, the question of what Pakistan should do to fight the losing public relations battle became the epicentre of discussion.

Apparently his Pakistani friends had been asking him the very same question. Forced onto the defensive in countries and cultures alien to them, these young people were looking for ways and means to counter the negative perceptions being created around them by happenings in Pakistan, sometimes even non-happenings that were being belligerently touted by both local and international media.

So how does Pakistan portray its real self rather than the portrait painted and on exhibition becomes the moot point and how should generic government restructure or define its media policy? What one imagines is the topic of a long drawn out thesis, reveals itself to be addressable, to some extent fairly easily, given the will. The first and foremost step could be to establish a high quality PR team both in terms of human resource and allied tools.

For years I have been querying the necessity of an information ministry, popularly known as the disinformation ministry, in my writings. The first question put to me referred to its functions and usefulness. The answer is quite simple. It serves as the handmaiden of the government. Unfortunately, being poorly staffed, the limited capacity just creates more confusion. Patronage of some happy journalists, control of media owing to advertisements etc makes it a coercive tool with little or no results. In sixty plus years, no real benefits have accrued although the leader of the day may have enjoyed the sycophancy.

“Who portrays the Pakistani nation? I mean who or what organisation is responsible for building the image? Of providing an insight to the wonderful natural endowments.” I was nonplussed by this question. Struggling with a fading memory, I came up with some lame duck answer about a very valuable documentary produced eight years ago on the occasion of an economic summit organised then by the current foreign minister Ms Khar in her capacity as deputy finance minister. That’s all I could think of. If anyone reading this knows of more, please do let me know.

During the course of our discussion, we very quickly agreed that even the basic tools to create and then implement an image booster for Pakistan are sadly lacking in the current structure. But we were also in positive agreement that the wherewithal to do so was available in abundance, even within the country, although financial constraints may have made it out of reach. So a fresh look at the entire subject ensued.

It didn’t take him long to convince me to do away with the information ministry. All it does is promote a lack of credibility; it is a negative bias. The free press in Pakistan is vibrant and recent years have removed its shackles. Perhaps, it too requires to be governed by responsible covenants agreed upon by all. The absence of defamation laws or their implementation has allowed the media to be highly speculative, and the emergence of the electronic media brings this factor to an even larger swathe of the population.

The American model focuses on ‘The Spokesperson’. This official is an expert in the field of information dissemination with high intellect, excellent connections and respect within the journalistic community. He or she heads the Press corps established in the White House. Which in effect means that the publications and news agencies assign a reporter to cover all activities and these persons have offices there with complete access to the Spokesman. So if rumours abound in the market, they can immediately ascertain the veracity or have access to the government’s viewpoint. Of course, they may disagree with this and publish the fact, BUT not without due reference.

The Pakistani model looks at placing the most trusted ally in this office, or at the MinInfo regardless of the capability or capacity. The result: utter fiasco. In the FO, we use a mid-career bureaucrat who can speak fairly well. No experience in media management is required. Another disaster. Other ministries are assigned press information officers; mid-level career bureaucrats who through the years have become chummy with some journalists. This is the 21st century, you don’t really expect to manage national image in this way do you?

I was introduced to an investment banker who met Pakistan’s finance minister a couple of weeks ago. The guy couldn’t stop praising the FM; his acumen and intellect. He was impressed with the statistics on growth and exports, especially the financial growth of the rural economy. “The guy really wants to do something, is doing something. Why doesn’t anyone know of this? Why doesn’t his PR team project all of this?” I looked down and said, “He doesn’t have one”. No wonder we are in a constant tailspin fighting rearguard image battles.

The writer may be contacted at [email protected]

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  1. GetReal said:

    There is only so much you can do to sell a shoddy product (pakistan). e.g. the khaki's can not be hiding the world's most wanted terrorist(OBL) in their bosom, while taking the $$$ from the world for pretending to look for him.
    First improve the product, the rest will follow.

    • Anon said:

      Good advice.

      Imran Husain: did you hear? "First improve your product".

  2. Khan jr said:

    Imran Husain aske: "Who portrays the Pakistani nation?"

    To reflect the true nature of the modern Pakistani state you can't do better than having Major General Athar Abbas, DG ISPR, as our "national" supreme PR spokesman.

  3. kjjee said:

    @ GetReal – your nick does not suggest your intellect – everyone that belives that OBL was 'shot' in Isb is living in fools paradise and then 'islamically' buried underwater? WTF? You think everything that US media says is 101% accurate?

    Quite a few overseas Pakistanis do a good job being 'a good will safeer'.

    By the way, article is very well written.

  4. Hasan Zuberi said:

    FINALLY …. somebody raised the curtain.

    Thank you Imran sahab for an extraordinaire article … What Pakistan lacks is the Good image …. you Google images for "Pakistan" and all you get is pictures of bomb blasts, law enforcement agencies and bearded turbaned figures called Taliban.

    Whereas all the good and positive news about Pakistan just didnt get the required attention and publicity.

    As a professional publicist i feel Pakistan Government and its institutes also need to understand the important of Crisis Management, an important aspect of PR, which is often missing from the aftermaths of important incidents.

    Every minister, member parliament and even small office bearers are on TV screens spreading confusion among masses and making mountain of molehills.

    Keep up the good work .

    Hasan Zuberi
    Founder President
    Council of Public Relations, Pakistan

  5. Shariq Mushir said:

    With people least concerned about civic responsibility and a nation sinking in ignorance, no wonder there's so much bad press. Just stop anyone driving on the wrong side and they'll say everything goes in Pakistan. What sort of an irresponsible attitude is that? This nation needs civility training aka CPR before any PR is instituted in my opinion.

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