Islamabad — The federal government spent billions of rupees on advertisements in national newspapers between 2013 and 2017, according to the information ministry.
An answer submitted by federal information minister Fawad Chaudhry in response to a question about government media advertising raised in the Senate shows that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) spent more than Rs. 10 billion on running ads.
The federal government spending saw increase of around 171% in ad spending during this period.
The ad spending went from Rs. 1.4 billion in 2013-14 to 3.8 billion in 2016-17.
Jang newspaper, one of the most prominent national Urdu dailies, ran government advertisements worth Rs. 1.4 billion from government advertisement from 2013 to 2017, according to the details submitted to the Senate.
The value of these government ads in Jang equals the government’s first-year spending on print advertisements.
Dawn, the English newspaper of record, was second on the list.
It earned more than Rs. 850 million from government advertisements. It was followed by Daily Express with more than Rs. 760 million.
Some regional newspapers are among the outlets that earned more than a billion rupees during the previous government’s tenure. Mashriq, the Pushto daily from Peshawar, accumulated published ads worth Rs. 197 million rupees while the Sindhi daily Kawish earned Rs. 157 million from advertisements.
Read the original document presented in Senate: Federal government advertisement spending records
Advertisement spending has been one of the controversial issues of government-media relations in Pakistan, as governments have been accused of using ad spending to influence news organisations.
Information minister Mr. Chaudhry, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf formed the federal government after winning elections in 2018, expressed his disapproval over the ad spending.
He said the combined advertisement spending of the former PML-N governments in the centre and Punjab amounted to Rs. 60 billion.
“More than one billion rupees per month were spent by the (previous) government on advertisement,” Mr. Chaudhry said. “Obviously we don’t have that kind of money.”
Shafqat Jalil, the principal information officer of the Press Information Department (PID), said there was indeed an increase in display advertisements compared to classified ads during the previous tenure.
“Display advertisement have pictures thus they have greater volume and cost more while classified ads take small space and are related to (government) tenders and jobs,” Mr. Jalil said.
He said the rates for the advertisements are decided based on newspaper circulation figures shared by the audit bureau of circulations.
“We have recently given a presentation to the information minister,” Mr. Jalil said. “We are streamlining advertisement with two objectives: One is bringing more transparency, and second is oversight.”
He said the PID is recommending a block allocation to the PID for ad spending.
“(PID) will give it to the media houses and later get reimbursed from the concerned government department,” he said.
Mr. Chaudhry said his government will come up with a transparent advertisement policy.
“Primarily we want the projects to allocate their ad budget in PC-1 (the project’s planning document),” he said.
He said this would be a more efficient strategy for allocation of advertisement budgets.
Mr. Chaudhry said the government has also contacted newspaper bodies such as All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and Council of Pakistan’s Newspapers Editors for feedback regarding allocation of advertisements. But the government is yet to hear from them, he said.
The minister said he would also like to stop using advertisement to influence editorial policies.
“We want to end this use of advertisement as a source of corruption and buying the media by the government,” he said.