With extensive experience supporting ministers and leaders in various capacities—from press attaché in Kuala Lumpur to Press Minister in Paris, and culminating as Press Secretary and media advisor to the President—I had developed a habit to instinctively evaluate public relations campaigns. The Bahawalnagar incident serves as a prime example.

Despite an otherwise successful media campaign, a significant flaw was the unwarranted escalation of the incident in traditional media, which initially emerged on social media and should have been contained within that platform. Let’s explore why the Bahawalnagar incident should have been contained within social media.

The posts, including footage, views, analysis, and commentary shared by social media activists regarding the incident, were initially perceived with skepticism by viewers due to their informal nature and the general lack of credibility and authenticity associated with social media content.

However, when official media managers injected this incident into traditional media, they inadvertently lent credibility and authenticity to these potentially concocted social media posts by associating them with the more trusted and established traditional media channels.

This shift in platform allowed misleading or unverified information to gain unwarranted credibility, which could have been avoided by keeping the incident within the sphere of social media.

Furthermore, social media influencers often lack access to traditional media channels, which limits their ability to amplify messages with credibility. Conversely, official media managers possess the capability to inject a counter-narrative by leveraging their access to social media platforms, thereby generating traffic and engagement in a controlled manner.

This strategy avoids the unnecessary amplification of virulent propaganda against the country’s two most important and indispensable institutions in traditional media. By focusing on strategic and controlled communication through social media, the impact of misleading narratives could have been effectively managed and mitigated.

Furthermore, state institutions possess an overwhelming advantage in having access to actual and factual information compared to the informal and laymen social media posts. This advantage empowers official media managers to effectively counter misinformation or propaganda with accurate data, evidence, and explanations.

For instance, in the mentioned incident where social media users were spreading misinformation through fabricated videos or pictures lacking context or evidence, the optimal response would have been to consistently provide factual information with equal frequency and reach.

This approach could have swiftly addressed and debunked falsehoods within the same digital space where they originated, without inadvertently legitimizing the misinformation in traditional media channels and amplifying it by exposing the incident to a broader audience that may not have encountered it initially on social media.

The second significant mistake made by the official media managers was their lack of preparedness when using traditional media to counter the false propaganda. Their statement was vague, lacking in facts, figures, and context, and it failed to provide legal backing or support.

The official narrative failed to address crucial details about the incident, leaving important questions unanswered.

Qamar Bashir

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