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“If you don’t want many more body bags then you refrain from politicizing it." Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Islamabad: As a media monitoring, analysis and advocacy group, we at Uks Research Centre are deeply perturbed at the continued politicization of COVID 19 on our national, mainstream electronic (albeit 24/7 TV channels), as well as in some parts of the print as well. Uks has been monitoring the coverage of this deadly pandemic from day 1, when it wasn’t even declared one. We have seen (through the world media) massive outbreaks, growing numbers of cases, rising number of deaths and then we saw it come to Pakistan. This concern that Uks is sharing is mainly addressed to TV talk shows as they impact the public more- both the literate and illiterate.  

The media response initially was not so scientific or accurate as it was trying to grapple with the enormity of the crisis. That, to some extent, was understandable. 
“If you don’t want many more body bags then you refrain from politicizing it." Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

However, what we have monitored for the whole month of March and now April has seen a great shift in the tone, attitude and focus of many of the print and electronic content. Though there was some kind of a tug of war between a province and the Centre (questioning ‘why do numbers matter?’ or ‘whether to go for a full or partial lockdown’), largely the content focused on the updates, information etc. 

But, unfortunately, since last week, Uks has monitored a new spate of war on the media and barring a few, most of the TV talk shows are busy in pitting a province against the other or Centre against a province. We have counted how  ‘guests’ are invited from various political parties (three to be more specific) and how the whole discussion is tailored. This is incredibly bad for outbreak control – it can drive our public away from acquiring information on prevention and updates to fall for who’s right and who’s wrong. 

The politicization of this outbreak will prove a difficult aspect to manage. 

The debates on social media specially twitter has ‘unfortunately’ mostly been racist, sectarian, ethnic, sexist. 

Uks understands that it is a tough balance to expect from our TV talk shows where politics is the core focus- irrespective of the issue/s under discussions. So, we have politics inherently intertwined with the COVID 19 response, and it is impossible to tell whether some of the actions taken by governments- federal and provincial- will pay off in the long run or should the public be prepared for a bleaker scenario?

Uks would like to make three appeals:

Media practitioners: Please avoid taking up issues with a premeditated agenda of political score setting; try not to invite guests who you know will engage in political arguments. And please remember: your 5 seconds of preaching on ‘unity’ is not going to have an impact after an hour-long programme full of political bashing, accusations and counter-accusation.

Advertisers: Can we expect some national and social responsibility from advertisers and their clients? Please see, if you can completely stay away from supporting content that incites the public, hinges on hate speech and creates national and regional divisions in this gravest of grave times? Losing a little money is better than losing human lives.

Public: Reject politicized, mundane debates. Demand reports from professionals in the field of infectious disease – or anyone with any level of understanding about the pandemic is easy to understand and is as up to date as possible. Although the numbers are of interest to you, it’s also important for you to see the story behind the numbers, of success stories, of best practices. 

Uks gently requests the entire media, but specifically the 24/7 TV channels, their owners, managing directors, bureau chiefs, and above all the anchors and analysts to please show some responsibility, and refrain from politicizing COVID 19, as none of us want to add on to the body bags- be in any part of Pakistan- it could be (God Forbid) mine, yours or our near and dear ones. The pandemic has no boundaries. We can all be carriers and we are all vulnerable!!! 

What is Uks Research Centre?

Since its inception in 1997, Uks has been committed to improving the portrayal of women in the media and newsrooms. Uks has emerged as a pioneer, and a leading force in bringing to light issues relating to women in/and media, thereby adding this critical element to the agenda on women’s development in the country. 

We do daily monitoring of about 15-16 newspapers and about 4 TV channels Over: 

12,000 newspapers monitored 
350,000 news stories in the archives
550 trainings for the media on gender sensitization
12,000 journalists from electronic and print media trained
400 radio programmes produced and aired from radio channels nation wide.
50 publications, including extensive research reports
2500 students from national universities trained on gender issues
30+ international partners

The first ever:

A voluntary Gender Sensitive Code of Ethics for the media 2002- revised in 2013
All women radio production house 2004
Pakistani Women in Media Network 2007
Internet Radio ‘Meri awaz Sunno’ 2011
Women Media Complaint Cell, active since 2015

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