Dec 10 - 16, 2007

An informed, participating citizenry depends on media that play a public service function. Our media system is spinning in a hyper-commercialized frenzy. Fewer than five national media conglomerates dominate much of our media; fewer than two dozen account for the overwhelming majority of our newspapers, magazines, films, television, radio, and books. With every aspect of our media culture now fair game for commercial exploitation, we can look forward to the full-scale commercialization of sports, arts, and education, the disappearance of notions of public service from public discourse, and the degeneration of journalism, political coverage, and children's programming under commercial pressure. This concentration of media power and attendant commercialization of public discourse are a point of rumination. The impacts of media and public relations cannot be underestimated. In the commercial world, marketing and advertising are typically needed to make people aware of products. Media management may also be used to promote certain political policies and ideologies. Where this is problematic for the citizenry is when media reports on various issues do not attribute their sources properly. Globalization, the dramatic political and economic change as well as the world-wide growth of media studies have called for a reorientation of media spheres. These studies provoke certain issues which are cardinal as far as the role of media is discussed. These issues include the relation of media to the power structure in society, control over the media, media influence on society, and the effect of media globalization and new ventures on the system and society. Media in general fulfill many, often taken for granted, functions within society. Without TV and other forms of digital assets modern societies would lack fundamental communication infrastructure, as well as the political power of the fourth estate, and the wide range from trivial to sophisticated information, not to mention the entertainment provided by it. This importance and significance in combination with the outstanding developments within technology in the last century has made mass communication studies more popular and noteworthy, but it has also resulted in amorphous academic structures.


In Pakistan the government during previous years took a welcome step towards establishing a strong electronic media especially private television channels by approving the draft of an ordinance setting up a regulatory body to oversee the broadcast media. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), responsible for regulating the setting up and functioning of all broadcast stations, including radio and television. The government had announced its intention to allow private channels to be set up soon after coming to power. After much bureaucratic wrangling, it finally took an important practical step in that direction and issued licenses for more than 70 new channels. The monopolistic stranglehold of state owned TV broke, and the competition, served to improve overall standards.

The new channels were also allowed to broadcast news bulletins and current affairs programs. However today once again government forced private channels to air dictated news which is widely criticized for lack of credibility.

The government must take its privatization policies to their logical end by opening up the airwaves to a broad spectrum of views, including dissenting voices. More credible news programs will also be a far more powerful way of projecting causes. In this age of information, the government must realize the futility of trying to control the airwaves. Freeing TV from the clutches of a monolithic bureaucracy is likely to bring in a welcome breath of fresh air. Media omissions, distortion, inaccuracy and bias in Pakistan is something acknowledged by everyone. However, due to those very same omissions distortion, inaccuracy and the bias in the conventional media, it is difficult for the average citizen to obtain an open, objective view of many of the issues that involve the power people.


Some lobbies can influence and control mass media in Pakistan greatly. In addition, powerful corporations are becoming major influences on mainstream media. In some instances it is observed that major multinational corporations own TV stations and outlets. Moreover, even as numbers of media outlets increase, the ownership is becoming ever more concentrated if mega mergers take hold. At the same time, vertical integration gives the big players even more avenues to cross-sell and cross-market their products for even more amazing profits. An effect of this though, is a reduction in diversity and depth of content that the public can get, while increasing the political and economic power of co-rporations and advertisers. An informed population is a crucial element to a functioning democracy yet these factors often work against this key requirement.


While many countries have signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 (about freedom of expression, opinion and information) has not been made a reality. A free and impartial media is a key pillar to a functioning state to help spread informed views and opinions. Yet developed and developing countries alike are plagued with various problems in the media in numerous ways. International news coverage is declining which is an increasing concern at a time when the world is attempting to globalize. The mainstream media of the developed and freer, nations pose an often unmentioned or poorly analyzed problem: the lack of objective reporting that is not influenced and, to a growing degree, controlled by elites with concentrated ownership to advance their interests.


While there is a significant range of activities which could fall under the heading "media support," a distinction is made between those activities which might indirectly contribute to media development (such as civic education or communication campaigns in the health and education sectors), and those which are directly targeted to strengthen the media as an institution, specifically media sector support. As this strategic approach lays out, this media sector support extends beyond training and includes reforming media laws, removing barriers to access, strengthening constituencies for reform, and capitalizing the media.

Financial restraints also impose barriers to media sector development. Such restraints may be characterized by limited advertising revenues, start-up capital and investors, business skills, and an understanding of audience share or audience preferences. Activities designed to eliminate these sectoral weaknesses have supported the capitalization of media. Specific activities include lobbying for higher journalist salaries, strengthening distribution mechanisms, and providing financial and technical support to develop non governmental advertising. Training may also plan an important role in this approach through training in business and newsroom management to support the financial operations, and in encouraging and documenting success stories of credible, non-sensationalistic outlets that have achieved commercial success. It can be found as a result of government control, with media oligarchs and economic elites, and through commercial concerns dominating the media. Removing these barriers to access may involve reforming regulation regarding entry into the market or regarding public service broadcast to reflect minority interests. It may also be useful to undertake activities that limit advertising revenues for government subsidized media, reform commercial law, create incentives for regional and community media, strengthen production skills, encourage media interaction with civil society organizations, and support alternative media. Other recommended options with this approach provide small grants and loans to media outlets, sensitizing newsroom and management training, and training on omitting discrimination from news stories.

Limited sectoral support is another sectoral weakness often identified in the media sector. Media sector support is characterized by the presence of effective media law and policy organizations, media watchdogs, research institutes and think tanks, advocacy organizations, and professional associations. It is also found with training institutes and universities, as well as critical readers who value the news function. To strengthen these constituencies for reform, programming should rely on capacity building support, advocacy training, sustainable financing strategies, endowments, and networking at the national, regional, and international levels. It is also important to reach out to readers, develop an informal code of professional conduct, and acknowledge excellence, discourage unethical behavior, and publicize the contributions of press to society. Other activities in this area may include press council development or other mechanisms for self-regulation, and civic education to inform readers. Civic education, in particular, can help readers evaluate the news sources for credibility, use information to lobby the government, encourage informed action and decisions, and engage media outlets capacities also mar the development of a successful media sector. These are marked by the absence of basic skills, ethics, investigative and specialist reports, and new technologies. Comprehensive training activities can address a number of these weaknesses. In particular, they may be advanced through international fellowships and visitor programs, regional seminars and workshops, internships, on-site newsroom seminars, textbook and CD-ROM production, video conferencing, and staff attachments. Training activities may also take the forms of reforms to university curricula and introduction of new technologies, particularly the Internet.


Media activities should not be viewed in isolation from other areas of democracy and governance programs and understood to only be important in civil society programming. Media law reform is a priority area , since it addresses the structural and institutional constraints to media sector development. It is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition in order to create a media sector that will support democracy. Combined with self-regulation of journalists this can be a very powerful approach to media development. Media sector support is a critical prong of strategies to support good governance. Challenges to media sector development are great and some, such as media oligarchs, hostile political regimes, and restrictive economic environments, may prove beyond the scope of any assistance. It is important, therefore, to choose media activities accordingly and to tailor any sector support strategies to the local realities. There is no substitute for creativity and flexibility at the field level, and innovations in designing and implementing media activities should be encouraged.