It includes non-political campaigns promoting public services, initiatives, and programs and raising awareness about various issues. This type of advertising focuses on informing and engaging the public on matters that are not directly related to the Pakistani government or partisan interests. For example, public awareness campaigns about polio vaccination and family planning to engage people in public welfare initiatives are apolitical.
Political advertising by the government refers explicitly to government-funded communication that aims to promote political messages, policies, or political figures associated with the ruling party. It is directly tied to partisan interests and can be used to shape public opinion on political matters. This is the arena where government political advertising comes under scrutiny, as it is often seen as politically motivated campaigns aimed at strengthening the government’s political narrative.
On one hand, it seeks to expand its vote bank, while on the other hand, it undermines its political opponents. Political advertising by the government raises significant questions, which will be explored in this article.
1. Who funds political advertising by the government?
The government may allocate a portion of public spending in the annual budget from tax revenue collected from taxpayers. These taxpayers may or may not be the supporter of the government. The government may sometimes use its owned broadcasting media for political advertising.
2. Who benefits from political advertising?
First, it helps the government because it usually highlights its achievements through political campaigns, which can steer public opinion. Second, it benefits people because they can make informed decisions about whom to give vote to. Third, it helps media houses and advertising agencies. Their collaboration with the government provides them a healthy source of revenue which flourishes the media industry.
3. Who measures the effectiveness of political advertising by the government?
Advertising effectiveness is measured by matching the outcomes of advertising with its objectives. When business houses do advertising for their products, they follow it up with matrices like sales, number of views, and conversion rate to measure the success of their advertising efforts. We often do not witness such activity in the context of political advertising. However, independent research organizations, government agencies, media monitoring organizations, and academic researchers can measure the efficacy of government advertising. The potential barriers to measuring advertising effectiveness of government advertising may also be political.
4. Who regulates political advertising?
In Pakistan, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA) are the watchdogs of the content of political advertising. ECP formulates guidelines for content, media usage, and campaign financing thresholds for political parties, candidates, and government. PEMRA is a regulatory authority for electronic media such as TV, Radio, and other broadcasting media to ensure compliance with legal and ethical standards. The federal government and the Ministry of Information may also play their role in regulating political advertising.
5. What is unethical about political advertising by the government?
The government may distort facts and figures to influence public opinion. The government may exaggerate its performance and make inappropriate comparisons with its opponents’ performance. When a company misrepresents facts to benefit itself or attacks its competitors, it is likely to be alleged for deceptive marketing. We have witnessed many case studies where the Competition Commission of Pakistan has found many companies guilty of making unsubstantiated claims for their products and unjustly hitting competing products. Unfortunately, political advertising, in general, and political advertising by the government, in particular, are not held accountable for their content. They can communicate whatever they feel as long as they pay the publishing outlets. The use of a code of conduct in political advertising is seldom observed.
6. What is inefficient about political advertising by the government?
Unfortunately, political advertising by the government mainly uses television medium which is not only expensive but also less effective, considering the disproportionately young population spending most of its time on social media. Using social media to connect with young people is both effective and efficient. Social media is economical compared to conventional modes of advertising and is also viewed more by our dominant young population.
7. What causes a lack of empathy in spending public funds for political advertising by the government?
When companies make their marketing plan, they chalk out it very carefully. First, they ensure reasonable production costs of commercials, followed by frugal spending on buying media broadcasting spots. Then, they try their best to execute their marketing plan in the best possible way. Afterward, they measure the impact of their advertising spent. In contrast, we witness extravagant spending in political advertising by the government and very weak follow-ups on measuring advertising effectiveness. One apparent reason is that government does not pay from its pocket; instead, responsible tax-paying citizens have to bear the cost of unnecessarily expensive and unjustified spending.
8. What can make political advertising better?
The following measures are being suggested to improve effectiveness, transparency, and fairness in political advertising by governments.
- Establish clear regulations and guidelines that govern political advertising by governments. These rules should outline the permissible content, spending limits, and disclosure requirements.
- Implement mechanisms for fact-checking political advertisements to ensure accuracy and prevent the spread of misinformation. For example, independent bodies or organizations could verify the claims made in the ads and penalize false or misleading information.
- Governments should provide all political parties and candidates equal access to political advertising platforms, preventing any undue advantage for incumbents or well-funded parties and promoting a level playing field.
- Utilize modern digital advertising tools to target specific demographics or segments with tailored messages. This step will allow governments to reach their intended audience effectively and deliver messages that resonate with different voter groups.
- Focus on issue-based messaging rather than personal attacks or negative campaigning.
- Use interactive platforms such as social media, online forums, and town hall meetings to engage citizens in meaningful discussions and debates, encourage dialogue and participation, and foster a more informed electorate.
- Governments should regularly evaluate the effectiveness of their political advertising campaigns. Feedback from citizens, independent surveys, and analysis of campaign outcomes can provide valuable insights to improve future efforts.
- Seek partnerships with independent organizations, such as media watchdogs, academic institutions, or civil society groups, to ensure oversight and accountability in political advertising practices.
- Promote public education campaigns to raise awareness about political advertising, its purpose, and the need for critical analysis.
These suggested measures will address ambiguities related to government political advertising and pave the way for a constructive, fair, and balanced exchange of information.