June 1, 2020

Shahzeb Khanzada Provides Data Journalism Example For Pakistani Talk Show Hosts

On 5 November, the Geo News talk show Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath ran a segment on a press conference held earlier that day by the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs, Hammad Azhar. Mr. Azhar had presented the economic performance under the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) government, which has recently faced criticism for its economic policies and rising inflation.

In the presser, Mr. Azhar shared information on the fiscal deficit, tax revenue, stock market index, inflation rate, and export volumes, among other things. For the indicators, the minister made comparisons either with the previous governments’ initial years or his own government’s first year in power.

The talk show host, Shahzeb Khanzada, used year-on-year data for the same indicators for the past few years to argue that Mr. Azhar put spin on the economic performance.

Using bar charts on screen and percentage difference calculations, Mr. Khanzada illustrated why the minister might have changed the comparison time-period for every indicator rather than use standard year-on-year comparisons. The “selective comparisons” gave the impression that the economic outlook was improving at present or not as poor as the previous government. If the comparisons would have been made consistently, Mr. Khanzada stated, the economy is probably much worse today than what the minister claimed.

We feel this is a good example for television talk show hosts and their research teams to use data to test official claims. Even though the programme did not discuss the factors behind economic decline, the host did call out the government representative for a lack of transparency about the methodology for comparative analysis.

Watch the full video here:

A video clip of the programme was viewed thousands of times on Twitter. The next day, the show hosted Minister Azhar to offer a rebuttal. Mr. Azhar said he stood by the comparisons, which he claimed were according to “international standards”. The exchange included a more detailed discussion on the factors. The minister was confronted about the fiscal deficit and admitted that PTI’s two mini-budgets, officially billed as “realistic” in controlling the deficit, could never have been an alternative for a financial year’s full budget. He also conceded that the large scale manufacturing was showing negative growth.

Watch the video below. Mr. Azhar’s segment begins at 11:17.

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