Activism by readers, viewers, listeners as media audiences for Elections 2013

a. In one of the preceding sections of these Recommendations i.e. Section 3 “Through civil society networks”, we have noted and recommended that the non-official associations which already exist in Pakistan that have been engaged in advocacy and capacity-building work to promote democratic values and practices and to enhance electoral participation have a specific role to render in Elections 2013 towards helping media to be impartial and independent.

b. In this section, the aim is to focus attention on the principle that citizens at large, in their capacity as audiences for the content projected by media, also have an obligation to fulfill.

c. Instead of being only passive recipients of content directed at them by mass media, citizens have both the opportunity and the responsibility to monitor media content, to take notice of threats against journalists and media and thus broaden and deepen public participation in the shared task of ensuring that media are able to be truly impartial and independent.

d. Whereas the role identified in Section 3 for civil society networks is on an institutional and organizational level, the role and responsibility focused on in this section is on the individual, the family and the group level of our society and of the body of voters.

e. Activism by citizens on media-related issues has been relatively limited in Pakistan. For example, in December, 1997, the Citizens’ Media Commission of Pakistan became the first such network to be established. Using private and philanthropic resources, this initiative was sustained for about eight years following which a few other initiatives have also developed. However, there is vast, unexplored potential for citizens’ activism in monitoring media content, and to bringing to the attention of the media, instances where the values of fairness and balance have been violated. With particular reference to Elections 2013, there is a need to provide a genuine citizens’ perspective, unaffected by partisan considerations, on the areas of concern covered by TOR No.F.

e. In evaluating the authenticity of any media monitoring contributed by citizens and media audiences, due care should be taken to verify as to whether some elements with partisan interests and aims are covertly using the facade of the name of “citizens” to project the impression of a genuine “citizens” response to media content. For example, there is the use of covertly-organized letter writing or pre-planned expression of opinion and protests by a camouflaged group to create the misleading impression of large-scale “popular” opinion. Whereas those behind creating such misleading impressions may be only a handful of persons.