PESHAWAR -- Balochistan civil servants are receiving training on how to respond to crises, specifically on how to convey information to the media following terrorist attacks.
The training took place February 22-23 for a group of 61 pre-service civil servants.
The training, titled "Counter Violent Extremism Strategic Communication and Media Engagement", was organised at the Civil Services Academy Peshawar by the Pakistan Peace Collective (PPC), an Islamabad-based research and advocacy project working on issues of peace and counter-terrorism under the Federal Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage.
A group of PPC trainers travelled to Peshawar to conduct the workshop.
The PPC is striving to train civil servants, including spokespersons, about counter-terrorism measures and ways to relate to the media, said Muhammad Usman, research manager at the PPC.
"The message in this training to civil servants is very clear: they have to present the state's narrative no matter the nature of the questions being asked by newsmen," he told Pakistan Forward.
Prominent media and security specialists, including broadcaster and public policy specialist Barrister Mahreen Khan, print and broadcast journalist Quatrina Hosain, journalist Tahir Imran and columnist Khursheed Nadeem, delivered lectures and presentations on how to effectively address the media.
The training also included mock exercises. The scenarios involved government representatives holding mock news conferences with the media to explain official positions after terrorist acts such as bombings, plane hijackings, the assassination of religious leaders, jailbreaks and other incidents.
Shaping public opinion
"The training is aimed at apprising [newly appointed] civil servants about contemporary methods of sharing information with the press, in addition to instilling in them the confidence to deal with the media after an incident of violent extremism," Muhammad Akmal Khan, PPC digital and campaign manager, told Pakistan Forward.
In the prevailing circumstances, when the role of media is essential in moulding public opinion, it is imperative to enable government spokespersons to present and defend the official narrative on terrorism effectively, he said.
"When a terrorist attack happens, government representatives have very little time to understand the situation and face the media," Akmal said. "If officials are properly trained, they can give an appropriate statement while keeping in view the sensitivity of the incident and its impact on society."
"News reporting in Pakistan has trended toward sensationalism because of ratings competition among TV channels, and the race for breaking news demands the immediate release of information," Mahreen Khan told the training participants.
Management-level civil servants must prepare themselves to work with members of the media, who, if not given proper input in a post-terrorism scenario, will depend on rumours because of the pressure of deadlines, she said.
The training course was prepared after much deliberation, keeping in mind the current requirements for handling the media, said Najam Sahar, deputy director of the Civil Services Academy Peshawar.
"The purpose of the training is to introduce civil servants to effective methods of conveying information to the public through the media," he told Pakistan Forward.
Handling the media with confidence
"The exercise will remove fears and hesitation felt by the pre-service civil servants of Balochistan, where the situation is volatile and where they [may] have to face a crisis after assuming charge," Quatrina Hosain, a Karachi-based journalist and former CEO of the PPC who was present for the training, told Pakistan Forward.
The participants seemed to grasp the key points of the training on how to handle the media while presenting Pakistan's narrative against terrorism, she said.
"This training was very effective and guided me on how we can handle a crisis situation through the use of proper words and statements," said Dr. Mir Wais Khan, a physician who assumed his role as section officer in Pashin District after participating in the training.
"This training has helped me to understand the sensitivity of a post-terrorism scenario and the responsibility of a government representative in giving proper input to media," he told Pakistan Forward.
"I had no idea that facing the media is such a difficult job," Sana Mahjabeen, the assistant commissioner of Jaffarabad District, told Pakistan Forward.
"This training has given us a concept of how to confidently handle the media and give answers to their questions in an appropriate manner that reflects the stance of our government," he said.
"During the mock news conference, I became angry because of some taunting questions asked by journalists, but because of what I learned in training, I remained composed," he said.