Pakistan Media and Citizens Put Ethics on the Election Agenda

PAK VOTES women-votersAidan White

In Pakistan, where politics routinely operates in a bleak framework of hate-speech and incitement to violence, upcoming national elections scheduled for May 11 will provide one of the strongest tests for journalism in the country’s history.

In an effort to cool the temperature and to improve editorial coverage Pakistan media leaders with the support of the Ethical Journalism Network have launched their own campaign guidelines. These aim to ensure the national vote will be safe, professional and fair to all parties.

 

At the same time, the EJN is supporting a ground-breaking monitoring programme launched this week and led by citizen journalists that will also keep an eye on how journalists perform over the coming weeks.

 

On April 19 broadcasters, publishers and editorial executives across all platforms of media launched their own media guidelines aiming to ensure fair reporting of the election and to avoid all forms of hate speech.

 

These unprecedented guidelines, prepared with the help of the EJN partner the Pakistan Coalition for Ethical Journalism, are the result of detailed discussions between the Election Commission of Pakistan, South Asian Free Media Association, Pakistan Broadcasting Association, All Pakistan Newspaper Society, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Pakistan Television, Press Council of Pakistan, and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

 

The guidelines have been officially adopted by the Election Commission of Pakistan and were welcomed by Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arif Nizami who told the launch meeting in Islamabad that they were essential to ensure a truly democratic vote. “Media play a pivotal role in a democratic transition,” he said, “steps should be taken to ensure that they are able to report freely without any threats.”

 

Monitoring the performance of media by journalists themselves is vital to the success of the guidelines project and media bosses agree that self-assessment can reinforce standards, correct mistakes and strengthen the independence of journalism.

 

The All Pakistan Newspaper Society and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) will be holding training sessions for the editorial executives on the guidelines. The Director General of Pakistan Radio, Murtaza Solangi promised that Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation had initiated a top-to-bottom process of informing executives and journalists about the guidelines to ensure that they are put into effect.

 

But guidelines, while useful in themselves, are not enough. A process of monitoring media coverage in the coming weeks up to and after the May 11 vote will also be important. Afterwards, media will review the impact of the guidelines and will prepare new strategies and structures for coverage and monitoring of future elections.

 

As journalists and media geared up for the election, another important initiative has been taking shape thanks to a group of citizen journalists who plan to gather information on the election and disseminate it using a variety of sources, especially social and online media.

 

The initiative Pakvotes has trained a handful of citizen journalists and has around 40 field monitors armed with smartphones in various parts of the country observing and reporting on the elections. The training sessions in Islamabad included participants chosen from all provinces of Pakistan, especially areas with a history of electoral malpractice or where there are serious threats of violence and sectarian conflict.

 

The Pakvotes team has developed an impressive code of conduct which helps their team to use social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter effectively and professionally. One of the aims of the exercise will be to pick up and report the stories which the national media might overlook and they will be collated on their website in English and Urdu.


Photo Credit: PakVotes