Since, the idea of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is turning into reality as a project of regional connectivity; expanded media domain and the zenith of the information revolution in the post-truth age; opponents anxiously using mainstream and social media to undermine the attraction of the project.
Before having insight about the post-truth phenomenon, understanding post-truth phenomenon is important, according to Oxford Dictionary post-truth era is “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs”. In the context of the mediatization of politics, the post-truth phenomenon becomes more relevant and essential tool to shape the favorable/devastating narratives.
Since the internet has become the main source of information, post-truth news reporting, writing, and analysis are driven by the erroneous trend of falsification of the facts and denial of reality. This is done either by wiping out the historical facts of an event or twisting the reality in the favor of a group or state. Ultimately, post-truth journalism is void factual reporting regardless of its policy outcomes. Post-truth politics media domain deviates from the traditional journalistic ethics.
The flow of information about a particular subject is not coming from one side rather there are numerous spots to channelize particular facts. The Internet works like a hub to multiple sources of information coming on a project. It is, thus, not subjected to writing or proliferating on a theme but the dominance of a theme depends on grabbing the larger share of information on the particular project.
The essence of any success of failure in the modern world is based on the presentation of a project or initiative. For this, a discourse requires convincing the public that a project or initiative will be in the best public interests. Post colonial states like Pakistan have been passing through this dilemma of suspicion of any foreign project. In the second part of the 20th century, it was easy for state machinery to control the public opinion or mold the public opinion to their favors. However, the information revolution has changed that trend.
Modern day means of communication are not only free to act but they also approach the greater public with more agility. This leaves the state machinery incapable of comprehensively control the public opinion at will. This is so because of an easy excess of newly developed media domains especially the social media and the internet. According to a website “Internet World Stats”, Asia is the largest internet using continent with 50.1 % of the total internet users. These stats show that how far reaching impact modern media domain has left on public opinion through the internet.
Going by these arguments, CPEC is one of the projects in Pakistan that’s success is based on the public opinion both in China and Pakistan. The only way to form this public opinion is media including print, electronic and social media. More interestingly, the success is based on the occupation of space on these media domains to form a solid public opinion. If these media domains are further categorized at the national, regional and international level, then it becomes more complicated to determine who is actually in power to control the public opinion.
It is also not about controlling the flow of information rather it is about competing for the flow on multiple media domains at deferent levels. State machinery might be in control of national media but it is unlikely that it controls the media domains at regional and international level. Furthermore, interconnectivity of national media with regional and international media makes it difficult for a state to completely control even the national media. Thus, competing for the option is more suitable for a state instead of controlling option as it is likely to violate the freedom of expression.
Since the beginning of CPEC, we have been observing continuous propaganda about the project. There are many examples to quote from domestic to regional and international media where there have been malcontents of editorial policies, paid contents, provocative arguments and most of all instigation of local communities. State media, both in China and Pakistan keep countering such attempts but again the matter of public opinion in no more under the tight control of state media. Private domains make an impact and produce an outcome.
Making the above-mentioned arguments as a base, there is a need to look into the source of Chinese attention especially those who are conducting research on CPEC, state to state relations and public to the public relations between China and Pakistan. In May 2017, a Chinese delegation, comprising researchers, scholars, and students visited Pakistan. During a gathering in a university, they were overly obsessed by the media content they used to go through routinely for their research purposes. The main focus of the discussion was on CPEC and public opinion about the project in Pakistan.
What was more interesting for me that our Chinese fellows kept asking about the concerns of Pakistani public about the arrival of Chinese companies resembling with East India Company. The sources they quoted for this resemblance were not less than from Pakistani newspapers by the Pakistani writers. In addition, since they were conducting scholarly research, they quoted many international sources from print and electronic media including reports, articles, editorials, talk shows, documentaries and interviews highlighting concerns of different communities in Pakistan.
Resultantly, these malcontent sources on international media domains raise security concerns among the Chinese working in Pakistan. During the gathering, Chinese fellows also talked about the separatist movement in Balochistan, militancy factor in FATA and fears of Galgit Baltistan community. It is now a clear evidence that neighboring countries like India, Afghanistan, and Iran have been harboring these separatists in Balochistan, igniting militancy in FATA and instigating the GB community of identity crisis. Indian and Afghan media channels and newspapers are now openly criticizing the CPEC with different approaches.
By analyzing the sources of Chinese conduct, one can come up with an understanding that our Chinese fellows quoted the malcontent media sources because the national discourse of CPEC in Pakistan is fragile, if not missing. The reason behind this fragility is the lack of clarity at government level where many things are considered to be veiled by the government representatives. This lack of clarity often invites local media experts and analysts to raise suspicions about the government and its business oriented activities. By this end, these suspicions are well taken by international media experts and analysts to further make the things controversial.
Chinese scholars are the reflection of Chinese society. If they are getting used to reading the anti-CPEC flow of information in international media then it will create more fears and suspicions culminating to a post-truth Chinese public opinion on CPEC. As I mentioned earlier, it is not about controlling the public opinion rather it is about competing for the public opinion; Pakistan direly needs to get into these media domains to compete for the flow of information to consolidate the public opinion for CPEC. By doing so, it will serve two purposes at the same time; one undermining the malcontent and transform the Chinese public opinion about the thinking of CPEC in Pakistan.
This requires laborious effort to feed more on the internet, engage more scholars, invite more Chinese students and put a joint effort across the border to end the fears and reservations exist on both sides. If we succeed in doing so, it will be possible only by comprehensive media coordination, scholarly understanding and more public interaction between China and Pakistan. Otherwise, the public discourse on CPEC will be dominated by anti-CPEC forces in Pakistan and abroad.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Mohsin Shahid is M.Phil Scholar in Area Study Center for Africa, North and South America, Quaid-e-Azam University. His area of interest is oriental studies, identity politics and narrative studies with special focus on international media.