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Faiza Rafique |

Pakistanis are still celebrating their fantasy of “free media”; ironically the penetration of vested political and economic interests in country’s so called “free media” – and thus on minds – is so strong and complete that few in the Pakistani media and academia talk or write about “Media Capture”, but this is becoming an insanely growing reality worldwide and more and more citizen groups and universities are trying to grapple with the subject.

A personal experience

I was attending a two-week intensive summer course in Budapest. This course titled as “Media Capture: The Relationship between Power, Media Freedom, and Advocacy” was organized by Centre for Media, Data and Society at Central European University, Budapest.

Living, working and teaching in Lahore, I did observe or hear patchy details of government or establishment’s influence on media but the bigger picture, of our own plight, suddenly dawned on me when I was attending a two-week intensive summer course in Budapest. This course titled as “Media Capture: The Relationship between Power, Media Freedom, and Advocacy” was organized by Centre for Media, Data and Society at Central European University, Budapest.

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Bit by bit, I was absorbing streams of information from the podium and from interaction with course participants – many of whom were media professionals from across Europe – and I could relate this to my own habitat: Pakistan. I could see it emerging in front of my eyes that endemic challenge of media freedom is subject to potential threats largely drawn by elements of state capture, in order to propagate potentially favorable ideas supportive of government or state, thus enabling or creating the state of Media Capture.

The endemic challenge of media freedom is subject to potential threats largely drawn by elements of state capture

Media capture in a “free” society

According to Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a writer on the subject, this is pertinent to societies where the media, having failed to achieve an autonomous position in society, are controlled “either directly by governments or by vested interests networked with politics.”

Media Capture, in an apparently free society, is facilitated by an organized network of control over media information through various established sources. According to Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a writer on the subject, this is pertinent to societies where the media, having failed to achieve an autonomous position in society, are controlled “either directly by governments or by vested interests networked with politics.”In our seminars, Malaysia was taken as a case study of ‘how it happens’. The case study reveals that how Najib Razak’s Government (2009-2017) has been predominantly influencing Malaysian Media through power and has maintained control over ‘regulation’, ‘ownership’, ‘funding’ and ‘public media’ entities.

Read more: Pakistan: Big Brother is watching you!

Studying the Malaysian model made me realize what has been happening in Pakistan. How government’s massive advertisement campaigns, illegal payments to journalists either in business facilitation or cash payments, selective access to official channels of information, luxurious foreign trips of media persons along with top political executives, control on licensing and harassment by PEMRA, all have been used systematically in the past few years to curtail the genuine journalistic freedoms – turning Pakistani media into a “controlled and mostly impotent noise box”

Stem/Mark media research project draws an interesting comparison of growing concentration of newspaper ownership in the Czech Republic between the period, 1994-2003 where pure industrialist ownership increased to 59% and political/industrialist to 33%

Media pluralism is an integral component of any liberal democracy but studies, across newly liberated social and political orders, show that how large private media outlets are growing and captivating more and more of public media sphere. Stem/Mark media research project draws an interesting comparison of growing concentration of newspaper ownership in the Czech Republic between the period, 1994-2003 where pure industrialist ownership increased to 59% and political/industrialist to 33%. It also reveals a decline in pure media ownership by professional journalists. Transnational case studies like on Zimbabwe and Slovakia also indicate the weakness of regulatory and policy structure allowing media monopoly.

Read more: Freedom of Press in Pakistan under threat from multiple fronts

Pakistan’s media war

We have observed a boom of privatization of media since 2002 that has not helped media freedoms but rather has paralyzed media with large share of Oligarchic media ownership. Big investors with other vested interests- like oil, textile, real estate, education, finance and advertising – have now developed major cross media concentration.

Pakistan is also fighting a multifaceted war, with a flagging economy, political instability, and an ideological crisis while the state is caught between models of civilian oligarchies and military dictatorship. The only definition of democracy is the absence of military at the top. There are many questions that I have been wondering about the perplexed state of Media Freedom in Pakistan. We have observed a boom of privatization of media since 2002 that has not helped media freedoms but rather has paralyzed media with a large share of Oligarchic media ownership. Big investors with other vested interests- like oil, textile, real estate, education, finance and advertising – have now developed major cross media concentration. These economic and political interests, present inside and outside the governments, now use their media leverage to cultivate tax machinery, government bureaucracies and invade public and press freedom and work closely to serve the political interests of elites in the name of freedom of expression. Lack of transparency, and public awareness, in media ownership licensing, can be considered as a major factor creating the kind of political economy Pakistani media now has.

Read more: Is Pakistani media split or…??

Knowing your media owners is the first step in combating ownership concentration and capture.

The population needs to know

People of Pakistan ought to know who owns which media house and what are the allied business and commercial interests of these owners and how they benefit from government policies, actions and inactions.

In order to facilitate the regulatory process, media literacy and advocacy are two basic components towards transparent media ownership in Pakistan. And knowing your media owners is the first step in combating ownership concentration and capture. As Noam Chomsky iterates in his famous and much quoted book, “Manufacturing Consent” the urgency of “detecting and challenging those that are not legitimate”. People of Pakistan ought to know who owns which media house and what are the allied business and commercial interests of these owners and how they benefit from government policies, actions and inactions.

I am now back in Lahore and wondering how to tailor my courses to bring greater awareness amongst my students of the reality of so called “free media” of Pakistan and its relations with the ruling elites.

Faiza Rafique is teaching Media Studies as an Assistant Professor at Forman Christian College, Lahore. She has organized many seminars, symposiums, and workshops for media training. Her varied research interests include Political Economy of Media, Advertising & Gender Communication. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Faiza Rafique is teaching Media Studies as an Assistant Professor at Forman Christian College, Lahore. She has organized many seminars, symposiums, and workshops for media training. Her varied research interests include Political Economy of Media, Advertising & Gender Communication.

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