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December 14, 2019

Is govt losing narrative battle?

National

December 14, 2019

The Imran Khan government is increasingly struggling to win a perception battle as it is faced with the propaganda machine of combined opposition parties and a big chunk of media critical of its policies. The social media like a wild beast seems to be beyond any control of the PTI government — though the PTI once prided itself over its formidable social media presence and the narrative building capability it developed as an opposition party.

So why is the government’s narrative finding hard to get traction across the media?

The opposition parties are cashing in on PTI’s governance challenges and economic woes, it inherited from the flawed economic policies and governance dysfunction of both PML-N and PPP governments. They succeeded to create an impression as if PTI government is soft, at best, and incapable, at worse, in dealing with recent events: for example, starting with Maulana’s dharna, to Nawaz Sharif’s exit/bail, COAS extension controversy, to hospital attack in Lahore, or students clashes in Capital’s heart—Islamic University.

The government’s push back to neutralise the impression of its rather perceptibly clumsy handling of these events, is so far inadequate. The talking points being churned out by over 100 plus talks shows per day, and the onslaught of professional opposition reps, exposes the lack of information, preparedness and data of various spokespersons of the PTI government. Interestingly, many anchors were found complaining that a number of star PTI stalwarts shunned attending talks shows and going to studios to put across the government policies, and at times it felt as if they left PM Imran Khan to his own devices to defend himself.

Though Prime Minister personally finds time to brief spokespersons of the party on government issues, PTI has no unified media steering editorial team or mechanism to generate talking points on a daily basis and apprise other reps who are either ministers finding hard time to prepare or other party spokespersons who may have no access to hard data on government policies, execution plans and rebuttals on the opposition’s narrative.

What to project through media, PTI government’s messaging is also confused. In contrast, PML-N government, besides, it brilliant media strategy, offered sound bites on every talk show as core message of its governance: power generation infrastructure development and CPEC, for instance — every rep was supposed to repeat the message to engrave into audiences’ imagination. But PTI struggles to highlight what is its core likely milestones.

As we are increasingly living in post truth society, politics is perception, and before reality sinks in, people form opinions on the basis of perception. The digitalisation of politics has made it even more difficult for the government to correct wrong information, put out counter data and let people infer right judgements of the hard realities the government facing.

It is basically government's job to explain ground reality, set out a plausible explanation for the observation of ground reality, and even manage to sensitise public at large on other legal and moral realities the government has to deal with on a daily basis.

PTI — a party once having drawn the highest accolades from both fans and critics for huge presence on social media and airways, and with Prime Minister Imran Khan becoming the sixth most popular world leader on Twitter, boasting 10.5 million followers, isn’t intriguing that perception management, political management and media management of the PTI government is weak.

Is PTI government listening? A new communication strategy is long overdue with fresh blood into its team from across sections including the media industry if it really wants to send out the right message.

(The writer is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan)

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