ELECTRONIC MEDIA WAR
The fittest is to survive
By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Sep 02 - 08, 2002
People at the helm of affairs have finally arrived to the conclusion that keeping the private sector away from the ambit of the electronic media may not be possible any more in the face of global proliferation of Information and Satellite technology. As a result, an array of satellite tv channels have started invading the target countries with social, political and economic interests..
Although the credit goes to the present government of breaking the ice with the permission to the private sector in this so far exclusive domain of the government, yet the initiative to this effect was actually taken by the former information minister Javed Jabbar in the care-taker government of Moin Qureshi.
Due to bureaucratic complexities and stringent policies, a number of private tv channels have got registered themselves abroad specially in the United Kingdom. Some of them have already started their telecast such as ARY, Indus and another is in the process of transmission namely GEO. Although these channels are known pro-Pakistani as their management originally belongs to this country, however, they obviously preferred to launch their operations from abroad to remain, what they described, free from the clutches of social, political and administrative curbs within Pakistan.
Realizing the ground realities, our neighbouring countries especially India has gone a step ahead of us by allowing foreign investment even in the print media. According to informed sources, as a result of this Indian policy to allow foreign investment in the print media, a large number of leading publishing houses are coming in either in the form of joint ventures or to start their own publications.
All the leading foreign news agencies have already opened their full-fledged bureau offices in Pakistan while leading world television channels have also made arrangements for flow of information from Pakistan. The situation calls for a decision to allow foreign investment in the print and electronic media from Pakistan as well which would certainly bring investment at a massive scale, opening job opportunities and also help promoting Pakistani products abroad.
It may be noted that with the opening of doors of electronic media for the private sector, a large number of interested parties have approached to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority for putting up their radio and tv channels in Pakistan. It is however yet to be seen that how many of them are going to survive in the face of strong competition from local as well as foreign television channels. Naturally, survival will be for the fittest alone.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has started receiving a large number of applications both for setting up radio and television stations in Pakistan.
According to informed sources, PEMRA has so far received 64 applications for setting up radio stations in private sector, while the last date for submitting applications for the television station is September 20, 2002.
Out of 64 applications for radio transmission, five will be given permission in the initial stage and almost similar number of tv broadcasting houses will be given permission in the private sector, it is learnt.
It may be noted that PEMRA has invited applications from Pakistani companies, incorporated under the Companies Ordinance, 1984 for grant of licence to establish and operate a Satellite Television Broadcast Station (International Scale) from Pakistan. It is however heartening to note that for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the area of electronic media which, used to be the exclusive domain of the public sector has been opened for investment in the private sector.
Practically speaking, it was however the need of the hour to respond to the global trends as the cutting edge information technology and satellite technology have done away with all frontiers, borders and all administrative curbs against the spread of information around the world. One has no option but to accept the ground realities.
According to Information Minister Nisar A. Memon, the government is actively working on different laws relating to the media, including the press and publication ordinance, access to the freedom of information and defamatory laws were likely to be promulgated before the installation of new government as a result of forthcoming National and Provincial elections.These laws were discussed during the cabinet meeting and expected to be promulgated before October 10. The government would soon be setting a 100 Kw radio station in Mirpur, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and a 100 Kw short waves radio transmitter and a radio repeater in Northern Areas to relay programs for Skardu. The government has also decided to establish a bureau office of Pakistan Television at Gilgit. The PTV office is most likely to commence working from next month.
Outlining the media policy, the Information Minister has observed that our mission should be to protect and project Pakistan through information management. He emphasized that it was the responsibility of the print and electronic media to bring out facts objectively. He said that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority had invited bids for putting up radio in the private sector. The government was planning to award five radio licences before October 10. He further said that licences for launching television channels in the private sector would also be given soon.
Syed Sajjad Ali Shah, Chief Justice of Pakistan in a foreword of a book on Mass Media Laws and Regulations in Pakistan says "all over the world, the citizens' right to acquire knowledge and information is increasingly being proclaimed and recognized as a fundamental right. The internaional human rights instruments as well as national constitutions and laws, acknowledge and safeguard this right." An essential concomitant of this right is to right to freedom of information and freedom of the press. The right to know and have access to information is essential, not just for the harmonious development of an individual's personality but also the socio-economic evolution and political development of the society. Such right is inextricably linked to making the government accountable, and its dealings and operations transparent, better governance is indeed the central theme and ultimate objective of the democratic philosophy. James Madison, a founding father of the American Constitution, linked the right to, and freedom of, in formation to the very survival of the democratic system. "a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy, or perhaps both", said James. His contemporarian and equal in vision and wisdom, Thomas Jefferson, observed that the freedom of the press is the "enternal vigilance" to guard the performance of the government. The degree to which the press is free and independent, is the degree to which it can perform its role as a watchdog on the conduct of the government and its officials. It helps in preventing the government from showing laxity or inefficiency or becoming corrupt. As a former Editor-in-Chief of Time Inc. Henry Grundwald wrote "Even a democratically elected and benign government can easily be corrupted when its power is not held in check by an independent press".
The right to know, acquire knowledge and information is indeed our cultural legacy, rooted in Islamic law, philosophy and thought.
Syed Fayyaz Hussain, General Manager, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) while expressing his views on the liberalized electronic media policy of the government said that the private sector is being encouraged to keep pace with the global situation of technological advancement. He said that the private sector in Pakistan which has always risen to the occasion would certainly deliver the goods in the electronic media sector also. He said that in the face of satellite technology proliferation around the world which knows no boundaries, limits or frontiers you have to flock together. However, social responsibility demands that the new TV channels coming in the private sector are expected to serve the interest of the nation and the country. As an authority we have to give them a sense of direction however the entire responsibility to promote and protect the interest of the country lies on these private channels. When asked how the growing number of Pakistani tv channels would survive economically especially in the face of limited market and economic resources, he was of the view that it is the test of true professionalism. They would have to carve a place for themselves in the market. Fayyaz recalled the days when the Information Technology was being introduced in Pakistan. At that time people had expressed fears that introduction of information technology may add to the problem of unemployment in Pakistan. Contrary to that fears and apprehensions, IT helped creating new and diversified job opportunities especially for the youngsters. He expressed the hope that as a result of private sector participation in the electronic media, possibilities of new economic dimensions can not be ruled out. Introduction of information technology in our economy is one of the best precedence to that effect, he observed.
In order to keep pace with the growth, the government has decided to engage the private sector in the electronic media. So far the TV channels representing Pakistan are not registered within Pakistan. TV channels like Indus, ARY etc are operating from abroad. He was of the opinion that license to the private channels may have no negative sign on the economy, instead it will help creating healthy competition among themselves which consequently improve creditworthiness of the information quality of the programmes presented by the electronic media in Pakistan.
He reiterated that the policy is to give a sense of direction to the electronic media to promote national culture, represent a true national colour on the most effective and power mode of transmission to help building a positive image of the country in and around the world.
Federal Information Minister Nisar A. Memon has also recommended to the business community to come forward and establish television, radio and sports channels in the private sector.
The minister said that government has recently established Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) which is fully responsible for issuing licences to private TV and Radio channels.
He was of the view that press and electronic media in Pakistan are totally free to write and criticize government policies as well as give coverage to political opponents, adding the government issuing no press advice as well.
There was no law specifically enacted to establish Pakistan Television Corporation which was incorporated as a joint stock company in 1967 and then, upon the Memorandum and papers went through minor amendments. The entire share-holding rests with the Federal Government.
Shalimar Recording Company Limited (SRC) which operates the STN TV channel is also a joint stock company in which Government holds 54 per cent shares.
In 1990 SRC awarded an exclusive, monopolistic contract to a private sector company known as Network Television Marketing (NTM) to provide all programming and advertising to the STN Channel originally known as PTN i.e. People's Television Network. However, the Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 1997 contains a section that excludes the continuation of private monopolies in electronic media.
Shaheen Pay television, the country's first "wireless" cable TV operates as a corporate enterprise registered under the Companies Ordinance 1984 in which a foreign investor holds 50 per cent shares, a Pakistani based group holds 24 per cent shares and the Shaheen Foundation, sponsored by the Pakistan Air Force for the welfare of retired personnel, holds 25 per cent shares.
In October 1996 a Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan had admitted a constitutional petition filed as public interest litigation by Javed Jabbar and Mubashar Hasan requesting the court to declare that the air waves of a country being a national asset, the issuance of a licence by the then-Government of Benazir Bhutto in 1995 to Shaheen Pay TV and to a 3 FM radio stations was an illegal action which was challenged on the grounds that the award of this licence was made on a non-transparent basis and that it is monopolistic in nature.
ELECTRONIC MEDIA REGULATORY AUTHORITY ORDINANCE.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, a law acknowledges the right of private citizens to use the air-waves of the country for the operation of privately-owned radio stations and TV stations. Also for the first time, the law permits electronic media to broadcast news bulletins other than those originated by the Government-controlled PTV and PBC.
Freedom of Information Ordinance 1997 (promulgated January 1997-lapsed in May 1997).
An Ordinance to provide for access by citizens to the public record.
This ordinance enables citizens to obtain a wide range of documents constituting the record of all public offices including policy statements, contracts and papers relating to transactions, licences, agreements and official orders given on various subjects.
At the same time it excludes certain types of documents such as noting on files, record of banking companies, material relating to the personal privacy of an individual etc. the law provides for a simple and easy procedure to obtain such documentation and also contains a provision for an appeal to an ombudsman in case the request for a document is declined.
The law enables government to categorize documents as being "classified" and thereby refuse access to such documentation. Nevertheless this law opens up the public record for the first time to the citizens and represents a significant advancement in the direction of transparency and good governance.
As far as the law is concerned the government has paved the way for the good governance through effective participation of the private sector in Pakistan. In the second phase, the follow up to ensure effective implementation of the policy and law is also equally important which needs constant attention of the authorities to make these policies as fruitful for the society.
Electronic media is considered as today's most effective and powerful tool for opinion mobilization across the globe. Relatively speaking, electronic media has grown also in Pakistan but only in its volume of transmission and assets but pathetically lacks in spirits. Pakistan Television has grown from one channel to three channels including PTV world transmission which are said to be seen in 52 countries. It is however funny that almost all its transmissions on PTV word are addressed only to the audience which understand the national or local languages which serves no purpose or point to send your message around the world.
If you have to mobilize world opinion in respect of your cultural, social, political or economic strength and to counter the political and cultural invasion of channels hostile against Pakistan at least 50 per cent of the transmissions should be made in English language.