Aurora Magazine

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What Has Happened to Public Service Communication?

Published in Sep-Oct 2022

The uncharacteristically muted response from brands to Pakistan's flood emergency.

It is widely accepted that the collective response to the devastating floods across Pakistan has been rather tardy. The guilty include the government (above all), the disaster management authorities, political leaders, charities, as well as the media that remained occupied with covering political jalsas rather than the tragedy that was unfolding in many parts of the country as a result of the unprecedented floods. 

Appeals for support for the flood victims also appeared belatedly in the media and most were issued by the federal or provincial governments. Some media organisations also joined the effort, through telethons and campaigns in the media. The ‘better late than never’ media coverage – extensive and almost non-stop – did rouse consciences and led to a scramble to reach the affected with essentials. In covering the role of the political leadership, the media, inadvertently perhaps, exposed in some cases the insensitivity on clear display. A clip of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister on an aerial tour showed him smiling and waving to the survivors below, rather in the style of a celebrity waving to fans. Other footage showed the callousness of several PPP MPAs visiting the flood-affected but acting very much like the feudal lords they are. 

Mysteriously missing from the media are the large multinational and national corporations. With their resources and financial clout, they could have made a tremendous contribution to the messaging part for the much-needed donations. Large state corporations such as State Life, PSO and PIA are notable for their absence in supporting the government’s efforts. Similarly, MNCs that were very active in creating awareness during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis have chosen to sit on the sidelines, it seems. I recall Lifebuoy and other brands engaged in not simply selling their products but creating awareness for the larger good. The government did manage to garner the support of some charities, such as Chippa, to make appeals for donations. All banks are also required to announce that they were collecting donations for the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund which somewhat added to the messaging. In recent years, public service communication has become a part of many companies’ CSR initiatives. Whether it is promoting education for girls or equal status for women, advertising in the mass media is beginning to play a role in consciousness-raising in society. 

This is why the silence appears deafening as over 33 million people are reportedly uprooted by the floods across the country. And if the big corporations are somehow contributing to the cause but choosing to remain silent, it would be quite out of character. 

According to a newspaper report, Pepsico did announce a ‘Millions of Meals’ programme to provide emergency food assistance of five million meals to communities in the worst affected districts across the four provinces. KFC, too, announced a meal programme through an advertorial. But Pepsico and KFC are just two companies of the thousands operating profitably in Pakistan, both local and global. Those whose lives have been shattered by the unstoppable gushing of flood waters are unlikely to be consumers of FMCGs. But humanity and a sense of responsibility towards fellow citizens have, in the case of previous natural disasters, overcome such considerations. 

Photo: ProPakistani's Facebook
Photo: ProPakistani's Facebook
Photo: U.S Consulate General Karachi's Facebook
Photo: U.S Consulate General Karachi's Facebook

In the coming days, more corporate sector companies may join the relief efforts. However, at a time, when words cannot describe the scale of the disaster, whatever has so far been announced appears as a drop in the ocean – or in the floodwaters that surround the hapless people of Pakistan.

Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R.