False information about austerity drive
MEDIA in its capacity as fourth pillar of the stateactually represents the people of the country.
To be able to play its envisaged role in a democratic polity it must enjoy freedom of expression.
The freedom of expression for the media derives its legitimacy from right of the people to know.
Since the government in a democratic set-up runs the affairs of the state on behalf of the people they have the right to know about the policies and initiatives of the government in regards to promoting their well-being and securing and advancing the cherished objectives and interests of the state. In the modern era it is the media which performs that role.
However, there is no concept of unbridled freedom of expression anywhere in the world. The media is supposed to act with utmost social responsibility making sure that the information passed onto the people is authentic and truthful.
All the professional and ethical codes for the media evolved by the media representative bodies including the International Federation of Journalists invariably emphasize truthfulness in reporting as the foremost duty of a journalist.
Dissemination of false, unauthenticated and false information can have serious repercussions, particularly in this age of social media when it spreads with the speed of lightening.
The expansion in the electronic media in Pakistan has indeed been a very positive development and I would say that it is the best thing that has ever happened in this land of the pure.
But it is really regrettable to note that while the media is zealously guarding its freedom of expression it is not fulfilling its role in regards to social responsibility.
In the mad race for better rating and earning the distinction of being the first to break a particular news, certain channels do not bother to ascertain the authenticity of the information or news that they put on the air.
The same is then picked up by the social media and assumes propagandist hue which actually is a disservice to the people.
And if it is a false news about the government it is also unfair to it as it tends to tarnish its image.
My motivation to write this piece stems from a discussion on a private channel recently in which the subject at hand was expenditure of Prime Minister’s office.
It was claimed that in spite of giving priority to austerity as announced by the Prime Minister Imran Khan the expenditure of his office had gone much above the previous levels.
It was quite intriguing for me to hear that and I felt compelled to pursue the subject and verify its authenticity or otherwise.
I knew for a fact that the Finance Ministry has authentic record of the allocations made and the expenditure incurred under those heads.
I approached the concerned authorities to seek information about the expenditure of Prime Minister’s Office regarding the period under discussion.
My findings are that the information put out in the programme of the concerned electronic channel was absolutely false.
Perhaps it would be pertinent to share my findings with the readers to give them a proper perspective on the subject. In any budget there are two types of expenditure.
One relates to the salaries and allowances of the employees of the office and the other pertains to operating expenses.
The year 2019-2020 showed a slight increase in the total budget under salaries and allowances from the previous year mainly due to grant of annual increments to the employees which was inescapable.
However there were drastic cuts in the heads under the Operating Expenses.
The expenditure under this budgetary allocations is the real indication of the promised austerity.
The demand estimates for fiscal budget 2019-2020 under the operating expenses amount to Rs.218 million while the actual allocated budget was Rs.46 million; a huge reduction from the proposed demand estimate.
Similarly a considerable reduction was done under travel and transportation head amounting to Rs.10 million.
In addition to that a visible reduction in expenditure was made under the head of Entertainment and Gifts from Rs.1.5 million to just only Rs.1000 to keep the head alive. As far as expenditure on Physical Assets are concerned, it was reduced by Rs.4 million.
Another massive cut was applied on Tour Expenses to the tune of Rs.1.2 million. Under the head Miscellaneous Expenditures a saving of RS. 20 million was ensured.
The most important and prominent reduction occurred under the head of ‘Discretionary Grants’ where only Rs.1000 were allocated just to keep the head alive from original estimate of Rs.1 million.
The expenditure on Wages of Household Servants was cut by Rs.30 million. Under Prime Minister’s Estate Garden Establishment a cut for Rs 10 million was effected.
The foregoing undeniable and verifiable facts do corroborate austerity in the expenditure of the Prime Minister’s Office as promised by him.
We have also, from time to time been informed about the comparative expenditure on foreign trips by the former heads of the government and Prime Minister Imran Khan which also confirms the authenticity of the austerity drive by the PTI government undoubtedly under the instructions of none other than the Prime Minister himself.
Had those who dished out the wrong information about increased expenditure of the office of Prime Minister bothered to verify the fact before going on, the public would have been saved of the onslaught of their indiscretion.
Such indiscretions not only soil the reputation of the concerned channel or the media outlet but also constitute a disservice to the people of the country.
The electronic channels indulging in this kind of activity, therefore, need to change course in their own as well as the public interest.
— The writer is former Director General Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, based in Islamabad.