PESHAWAR: Building public image of leaders and political parties in power by publishing their pictures and party colours in government advertisements funded with public money is a practice commonly pursued in Pakistan.
Is it acceptable or should it go unnoticed in a democracy?
Answers to these questions cannot vary in essence. The practice cannot be supported.
However, in the case of Pakistani democracy, it is accepted as a norm. It remained in practice by the government after government: be it a democratically-elected government or a military regime.
Publicity of the men in power by spending public money on newspaper advertisements under the garb of promoting a social cause, a development project, or a public meeting has always attracted criticism from the political parties in opposition. But, when they come into power, they too resort to unintelligible and low practice of personal glorification through media blitz on public money.
In the matured democratic societies, it is considered corruption, a contemptuous attempt to use public money for the promotion of a few or the party in power. In Pakistan, the ruling parties consider it their right to use public money for self promotion.The political parties in power in the last five years, including Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and Awami National Party spent huge amount of public money on building public image of their leaders. Had they been spending the money from their own pockets, it would have been a different matter.
But that was not case. The PPP-led federal government glorified the public image of its slain leader Benazir Bhutto and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N did the same by trying to build persona of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif in the officially-sponsored advertisements of the government of Punjab.
So was the case with the ANP-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. It spent huge amount of money on publicity campaigns, promoting different development initiatives. In many instances, the development projects were presented as initiatives of the party leaders Asfandyar Wali and Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti.
How much their efforts have been effective to attract public support is evident from the results of the May 11 elections. Except for PML-N, the other two parties lost ground in the last held election compared to the public mandate they received in the 2008 general elections.
So, with this in mind when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Shah Farman announced in December last year that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf led provincial cabinet had decided to abandon the past practice of glorifying party leaders through officially sponsored publicity campaigns, it provided a reason to wait and watch.Mr Farman had announced that from now onward pictures of the party leaders would not be published in the government-sponsored newspaper advertisements, the decision was welcomed.
It was hailed as a welcoming step towards the fulfillment of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s promise of establishing a ‘New Pakistan’ if voted to power.
The cabinet had also decided that no new projects, such as airports, roads, hospitals, etc, would be named after the political leaders. This is again something that can hardly be objected or remain without being appreciated.
The provincial government has, by and large, adhered to its pronouncements except for a few instances where it could be accused of violating its own decision.
It would have been more prudent on the part of the PTI-led provincial government if it had selected to use a different title for its recently launched ‘Imran Khan Cricket Talent Hunt Under-17 boys’ programme.
The newspaper advertisements issued by the provincial directorate of sports and youth affairs on the programme’s launch day on January 25 carried Mr Khan’s picture from his cricketing days.
Does it amount to be a deviation from the provincial government’s stated position in accordance with Information Minister Shah Farman’s announcement?
One can argue for or against the directorate’s decision: Mr Khan is a cricketing legend, so his picture was published in his capacity as an iconic cricketer. Those objecting to the argument may describe the move a violation of the cabinet’s decision since Mr Khan is the PTI chairman.
In a related development, the provincial government’s new health sector initiative ‘Sehat Ka Insaf’ (Health’s Justice) vaccination campaign, launched in Peshawar on Sunday, has come with a massive publicity campaign.
Deviating from the past practice, the government advertisements published in local and national newspapers appeared without pictures/names of PTI leaders.
However, campaigners could not resist the temptation to use the occasion to benefit the party in power: PTI.
The publicity material hoisted across the city and newspaper advertisements published on Sunday and earlier carried the PTI flag’s colours, putting other political forces at a disadvantageous situation.
Since the money used to publicise the vaccination campaign has come from the public kitty, it would have been more appropriate if the decision makers had chosen to avoid using the PTI flag’s colours in the publicity material in furtherance to the spirit with which the provincial cabinet decided to discourage self promotion by using public money.
Good deeds are easily spoiled by succumbing to temptations. PTI claims to be a political force that stands for bringing about change. It has yet to prove it.