ISLAMABAD: A party spokesperson’s life can be enriched by the spotlight of media coverage, but it poses a peculiar obstacle within the governing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI): you are one WhatsApp message away from Prime Minister Imran Khan.
A semi-official group of spokespeople who hold a monthly debriefing session with the prime minister on a reasonably regular basis are those from within the party informally tasked with the task of promoting the government’s narrative. As official spokespersons for the government or the party, most of them are not told.
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A senior party official informs Dawn that through WhatsApp, the prime minister directly offers input to different spokespersons on their results. A pat on the back is not always the case.
Insiders in the Prime Minister’s Office shared with Dawn the specifics of how this narrative-building process functions directly under the oversight of the prime minister (PMO).
A conference of his spokespersons is periodically organised by the prime minister and the official announcements from the meeting usually make headlines on TV and newspapers. The prime minister was mentioned in one such meeting on Monday, a day after the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) jalsa in Lahore, as calling the opposition’s event a ‘flop show’.
“Fawad Chaudhry, Federal Minister of Science and Technology, who was the first information minister of the PTI government told Dawn: “Those party leaders and cabinet members who are frequent guests on TV shows make up this informal group of government spokesmen and are frequently invited to the PM Office or his home in Banigala by the prime minister for a meeting that lasts for about one hour.
He said some of those people who live outside Islamabad are joining the meeting through video links.
After being armed with the current narrative on trending concerns, these spokespersons are released on multiple media outlets where they are supposed to promote this narrative with the force of conviction. Officials say their success is closely tracked for reviews and appraisal.
The process operates like this, officials say: if there is a technological challenge that needs to be propagated or defended, the minister or advisor involved is invited to the meeting to give a briefing to these spokespersons with a special emphasis on the headlined issue.
“For example, Shahzad Akbar is called upon to provide updates on opposition leaders’ accountability and corruption cases, and finance minister Hafeez Shaikh is invited to share economic details,” said an official who attended such meetings.
Contrary to normal procedure, a PMO official said that while the minutes of the Prime Minister’s meeting are prepared and an official press release is released, the spokesperson’s meetings remain informal and no press release is issued thereafter. “Even PM House officials are not permitted to attend these meetings,” he said.