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Research has investigated the impact of media and public pessimism and optimism on financial market returns and volatility, investments, business and trade in the short and long run. Media sentiment translates into investor sentiment. Optimism ushers in a bullish trend in the market while pessimism does a bearish trend. Media sentiment analysis is constructed on media pessimism indicator by taking the ratio of the number of newspaper articles that contain predetermined negative words to the number of newspaper articles that contain predetermined positive words in the headlines and in the lead paragraphs.
"Fake news" is a new and a more dangerous addition. Unverifiable stories look true. They put out bad news, and many are led to believe them as facts, especially when they appear in larger media electronic and print outlets.
I once asked a very senior German journalist associated with global perception surveys as to how Pakistan comes out so bad in corruption index, investor sentiment and transparency index when we know that it is not as bad as the survey results propagate. He remarked that by and large it is all computer-aided intelligence-based surveys through which all the bad and good news from media are picked up to reach conclusions. It is therefore not surprising why Pakistan suffers from so much of image and perception deficit. We talk and write more bad than good about our nation.
We often blame the international media for negativity but it's our media which provides the international media the ammunition to shoot us. While the Indian media and its politicians largely desist from exposing any news about the happenings in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the media of Pakistan, which is abetted by its collective political leadership, however, relishes extensive coverage of events in North Waziristan and Baluchistan, thereby providing the ammunition to international media to react. BBC, for example, has lately cashed in on this 'opportunity' by airing a controversial report on North Waziristan.
While the government is confronted with a severe economic crisis, the media and politicians are engaged in churning out bad news with a view to outsmarting each other.
The legislators are engaged in in-fighting and point-scoring, transmitting negative signals to local and global media and investors.
The incumbent government through its very strong accountability rhetoric has, however, shaken the investor confidence and businesses, prompting them to withdraw money from the market and go in hibernation. Their approach has therefore adversely affected the flow of economy.
The news emanating from or about National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has become a daily feature in our lives. The anti-corruption rhetoric of the government, NAB and opposition benches has not done much to arrest the menace but has definitely contributed to projecting Pakistan as the most corrupt nation on the planet.
The new FBR Chairman has sent a much-publicized memo to prime minister Imran Khan highlighting the severe threats to our economy. The wisdom of this rhetoric is not understandable; nor does it appear to be relevant. It has, in fact, shaken the already shaken business/investor confidence. With so much of media talk on the subject for months, all segments of society are now well aware of what the issues are. What the public is now interested in is to see delivery on ground - which is unfortunately not happening.
The government functionaries will do good to the nation and to the sanctity of the high offices they hold if they resist the temptation of being on the media and talk shows every now and then in accordance with good governance norms world over. It's the politicians who are responsible for interface with public and media. Government functionaries must devote all their time and focus on delivery and delivery alone which counts at the end of the day.
Also, lately, FBR widely publicized the five-point criterion it has set to track down tax defaulters with 'watch out we are all set to get you' message to businesses. The intelligence-based approach is a good approach by FBR and can be better managed with better results. But, again, why create media hype, panic and uncertainty in an already shaken market?
Why can't the regulators operate discreetly as is the global fair practice with their focus on delivery and delivery alone? Under a new phenomenon, all mainstream political parties have set up media cells that work round-the-clock to identify the gaps and weaknesses in each other and then exploit these through media for point scoring.
Arguably, the role of PML-N media cell, for example, was one of the factors behind party's downfall. All political parties will do good to the nation by dismantling their media cells and save their funds for a better cause and do some justice to country's image. The PTI must make a beginning. Its value addition has outlived its life. The assemblies are the right forum for politicians to vent their anger.
(The writer a the former President of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019