The tri-directional transformation of the info ministry—first of its kind in the government, can be considered a qualitative as well as a quantitative attempt–if successful, would be a leap forward.
PKONWEB Report (Islamabad) — We went through some readily available data and information already existing in the public domain, while concurrently tracking and analyzing the 180 days of ministry of information’s and its minister’s announcements, notices, etc. We then attempted to analyze their performance on qualitative and quantitative parameters. We also tried to connect the dots among the emerging indicators, and found the following:
1. The ministry is considered shock absorber of the government’s performance vehicle– a passive function, and at the same time it actively participates in disseminating state and the government’s narratives inside and outside the country through various departments (said to be anywhere between 9 and 12). Given the internal and external security and stability dynamics the country continues to face, the ministry–part of a huge bureaucratic community couched between the rulers and the ruled, has an overwhelming albeit challenging tasks now and ahead. Therefore, while quantitative performance evaluation of its profit centers, such as Pakistan Television Corp., Shalimar Recording Company (ATV), Radio Pakistan, etc.–all of them over the last few years have been however running at a loss–can be conducted, the functioning core of the ministry–a cost center cannot be evaluated just on numbers.
2. With Rs7 billion overall budget,the functioning core has a budget of around Rs400 million only. Rest–nearly Rs6.6 billion–which the core manages, administers and spends on publicity with some going as grants, loans and aid to other semi-independent cost and profit centers. Example: Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) and Lok Virsa are considered cost centers. Profit centers as discussed above also receive some grants and loans though, given their vulnerability–a symptom considered perennial in most of our state owned enterprises (SOEs).
3. Having said so, there has been a change this time: The ministry, as a first in more than a decade, has tried to rationalize spending of monies in government advertisements and commercials to the print and the electronic media–the latter being now almost three times bigger than the shrinking print media–a phenomenon not local but global due to digitization of creative industry.
4. According to our estimate, some Rs6 billion (federal plus provincial) is spent yearly on such advertisements–and have been growing over the years—last year out of overall advert. pie of Rs82 billion, the govt. adverts comprised over 9 percent—fairly high with absence of performance indicators as no measurable standards existed then.
5. This year, the ministry has attempted to transform the order and magnitude of its pie and rationalize its promotional costs based on austerity measures coupled with tweaking “subsidizing” effect, specially in the electronic media revenue pot.
6. Still, the model has hiccups in it and inherent natural constraints, given the fact that over a decade, government adverts have been the most predictable source of revenue stream for the industry–and a big number helping it grow size-wise and profitability wise from predictability standpoint.
7. There was casualty though: limited government resource priorities were apparently affected even though the federal government and government of Punjab became top and second ranking advertisers among public sector respectively last year.
8. That seems to being calibrated with course correction. This year, average government advert rate has been set at Rs.75,366 as compared to Rs.204,166 in 2018. The rationalization has generated potential savings in excess of Rs.128,800 on paper, a whopping slash which officials expect could generate a huge saving –Rs.3.79 billion this year.
9. If this saving is really generated, at the end of the day, it will actually be passed on to all the ministries, as the Info & Broadcasting Ministry only acts as the manager.
10. Managing official information, responses and its overload through key reforms are said to be on the table. So is the push for unified national narratives to counter external propaganda–a hybrid war related attribute on the swing.
11. This tri-directional transformation—first of its kind in the government, can be considered a qualitative as well as a quantitative attempt–if successful, would be a leap forward.
12. It however has critics in the press and the media industry. The minister has responded by saying: the government can’t be a client and the savior of the media at the same time; it must reform its business model and focus on digital growth. True, but it’s difficult to digest for an emerging business sector which has been fed and pampered by the two previous governments over a decade.
Based on all of the above, the ministry gets a B+.
Read next, coming soon: The Finance Ministry at a Crossroad