In an election campaign in Pakistan that made most contestants forego, out of fear, rallies and road shows, the winner all the way has been the electronic media. The ad spend of certain parties in the fray on TV is way beyond their declared cash assets.
So where did these parties secure the riches from? The poser by an NGO, Centre for Civic Education, Pakistan, came with the claim of a staggering (Pakistani) Rs244.75 million flowing into the coffers of 33 private national and regional channels. In all, it fetched their clients 169 hours of advertisement time.
The lion’s share belonged to the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) whose 12,278 advertisements spread over 105 hours were billed at Rs 175.84 million by 34 channels, including the state-owned PTV. A distant second was the Nawaz League whose 463 advertisements beamed for nearly 18 hours cost Rs 24.26 million. The party used PTV and 17 private channels to reach its message to the people.
Of the three parties with the pretence of a pan Pakistan presence, the PPP spent the least -- Rs 15.89 million on 2343 advertisements over 18 hours and 33 minutes on 19 channels.
A document released by the NGO claimed the Q League’s closing balance in its account in June 2007 stood at a little over Rs57.57 lakh. The corresponding figures for the PPP and the PML-N were Rs4.86 lakh and Rs88, 961. “How much more money could they have raised between then and now?” asked Dr Zafarullah Khan who heads the Centre. He said the study brought forth the role of money in a largely lackluster campaign that saw the administration advising candidates against electioneering in the field.
But despite the environment of fear in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s December 27 assassination, the PTV started its election hour telecast only on February 9, a week before the close of the campaign. The theory Dr Khan buttressed by statistics was that a low turnout abetted by a low-key campaign suited those who want status quo and were working against a change through elections.