Evidence Based Policymaking during Covid: The Media and Government’s Public Messaging

June 18, 2022

Mr. Bilal Lakhani is a recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He has a decade long global corporate career in communications and is a senior columnist for the Express Tribune. CPPG invited Mr. Lakhani for a conversation with Ms. Saba Shahid on August 18, 2020.

Mr. Lakhani began by explaining that managing the Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for all governments globally. Public messaging globally made institutions and the public uncertain, not only in Pakistan. However, Pakistan has fared better than most countries and this is due to evidence-based policymaking and reliance on data. Strict lockdowns were against the social structure of the state: as widespread poverty, inequality and a large informal sector characterised by daily wagers made it impossible to shut down economic activity. The speaker highlighted that strategies of communicating effectively with the public were necessary as these helped complement the government’s decisions with respect to the economy. Otherwise, a certain class could afford to change human behavior willingly, not those who have to leave the house for livelihood. Mr. Lakhani emphasized the success of Pakistan handling the Covid-19 situation, which in an interview was appreciated by Bill Gates as well. The availability of demographic data was accessed through polio registrations data district by district, which proved reliable and relevant. On the other hand, opposition and private media responded to this behavior of the government as the confusion that caused distrust among the public. Despite all the pressures, the government followed the plan of evidence-based policymaking that proved healthy to the circumstances. Event covered by Mansoor Ahmad