The complete absence of Pakistani journalists at the high level diplomatic meeting at Ufa between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and a lack of attention paid in the media to the meeting have caused narrative in international media to be built in favour of India. It is worrying to read reports that Indian journalists were swarming at the meeting, providing live updates and coverage, highlighting Modi’s success at bringing up important issues like the Mumbai terror attacks. So while Indian journalism was building the PM and India up, Pakistani media relied on a couple of pictures and tickers by an official of the information ministry to TV channels back home.

The PML-N government has been accused more often than not of being wary of the media when it comes to sharing information, be it regarding developments at home or abroad. During the PPP’s tenure, the practice of taking journalists along on international trips was encouraged and even though the number of Pakistani journalists present in comparison to Indian journalists was 1 to 5. The PML-N’s excuse is that funding journalists’ trips is a frivolous act and a waste of taxpayer’s money. But what is really a waste is the underutilisation of soft power of the Pakistan media to influence the narrative in favour of the government both at home and abroad.

Keeping journalists at an arm’s length to sidestep having to answer difficult questions will not go down well of PM Nawaz Sharif’s legacy. The fear of the media is unfounded, unless the government delegation knows it is going to be weak and ineffective in international diplomacy and would rather not have the people know. The worry over taxpayer money is also groundless for a party whose Punjab CM travels by helicopters and a Finance Minster who has been happy to approve spending on unnecessarily expensive BMWs for the PM in the past. The government needs only to look at its own bloated expenses and well-fed bureaucracy if it needs to save taxpayer money.

At the end of the day it is the media that is the source of all communication between the government and the people. If the PM wants to see the power the media has over him, he just needs to look back one year when significant media houses were unequivocally backing PTI’s protest demanding his resignation. It is time for the state to rehabilitate this relationship. While the media may well criticise the leaders at a local level, on international trips the media can help improve the image of Pakistan and would rather not engage in self-sabotage.