On spin-doctoring

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The role of a ministry

Cabinet meetings are probably never all fun and games, but the 100th meeting of the federal cabinet would have been particularly uncomfortable. A tearful Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan tendering her resignation to the prime minister probably caught everyone off guard, even those in the know of whatever circumstances that led to her decision. The prime minister declined to accept her resignation and gave her some assurances. A good call. Dr Awan might have her detractors – as everyone in government does – but she has a certain rustic charm to her and is, after all, one of the few directly elected female legislators in the parliament. Hers is also one of the most thankless berths in the cabinet.

Had her resignation been accepted, she would have been the third information minister that this government would have seen through. She had been preceded by two ministers skilled in their own right.

The news, however, has sparked off an old debate that rears its head from time to time: should democratic governments have information ministries in the first place? The answer isn’t as simple as one might think. Though the very name has an Orwellian Ministry of Truth ring to it, the ministry doesn’t go about picking journalists up; that isn’t the style of political governments (for the most part) and even in military governments, such tactics are usually employed by the spooks, not the ministry.

Yes, it is the duty – after the freedom of information laws and also for purposes of PR – for all departments to give information to the public but these positions are usually manned by officers from the Information Service (again, sounds more sinister than it actually is.)

The information ministers, in their capacity as the boss of the PID, serve as the spin-doctor-in-chief of the government; all countries have a variation of the sort.

Leverage can come through state ads (the government is one of the country’s largest advertisers) and that though its misuse should be discouraged, it is unavoidable to have a system without it.

Though a vibrant media is a blessing for a country, the problem of third world democracies is the unreasonably high expectations the popular media can have of any sitting governments. That can actually serve as a deterrent to development. All governments deserve a sporting chance to explain their case to the public.