ELECTRONIC MEDIA FACING NEW CHALLENGE
Country needs radio and TV channels in private sector to end decades-old authoritarian monopolyBy AMANULLAH BASHAR
Dec 07 - 13, 1998
The Electronic Media today has assumed the role of a bridge between masses and the governments in the democratic societies all over the world.
In order to swiftly resolve socio-economic and political issues, in accordance with in the parameters of the law of the land, it is being used as a means of two-way communication between the people and the government which believes in facilitating the masses through good governance.
The role of electronic media as a trouble shooter in all aspects of life including health, education, socio-political and economics, getting immense significance with each passing day in view of ever increasing pressures on the modern living.
This gigantic task of redressal of the public problems can only be taken up through the concerted efforts both by the public and radio and TV channels in the private sector as the experiment to deal with the public issues exclusively by the controlled media has not been proved fruitful.
According to Javed Jabbar, known for his association with Mass Media and having a singular credit of producing a book, entitled, "Mass Media Laws and Regulations in Pakistan, countries like Indonesia and Turkey have private radio stations in such a large numbers that beyond comprehension in Pakistan. Indonesia has 700 private radio stations while there are 1,300 radio stations in Turkey.
In the absence of private channels, this important segment of information including 'Radio and Television' are controlled by the government in Pakistan. Although, a private channel i.e Network Television Marketing (NTM), is operating as a private channel, simultaneously with Pakistan Television (PTV), its limited areas of operations debarring it from the spheres of News and Sports coverage and it has not been provided a level ground to justify its existence in the private sector.
Commenting on the situation, Faisal Sher Jan, the Chief Executive of NTM, said that NTM had started its transmission in 1990 under a 3-year agreement with Shalimar Recording & Broadcasting Company generally known as (STN). This agreement was renewed in 1994 for a period of another ten years ending in 2004.
STN, which had bought time from PTV, had given an understanding to the government that 30 per cent of the time bought would be free of cost for PTV Khabarnama, development programmes of the government and address by the President and the Prime Minister. This 30 per cent time allocation with out any fee is seriously hitting the NTM especially due to limited scope of programmes as the agreement was between the government and the STN and not between the government and the NTM. He said, since NTM has not been allowed to telecast sports coverage and its own News coverage, it is unable to attract the commercial revenue as compared to PTV. At least sports coverage should be allowed to make this private channel economically viable, Faisal observed.
He said that the credit worthiness of any media is the key to win the attention of the audience or the viewers, especially when they have to choice to switch over to other satellite channels. The Indian channels which have their own interests, are exploiting the situation by presenting things with their own angles. They need to be countered by more radio and TV channels in the private sector in Pakistan. The government controlled electronic media needed an effective support from private sector to check the foreign channels. The glaring example of failure of NPT newspapers controlled by the government should be taken as a guideline to evolve policies for the electronic media, he felt.
Mohsin Ali, the General Manager, PTV, Karachi Centre, however, viewed the situation with his own perspective. Describing what it is being shown on Indian channels as an alien culture neither belonged to India nor Pakistan. Whatever the stuff is being displayed on Indian channels has no roots in the sub-continent. It serves no purpose but indicates the frustration of a certain class of people. As compared to these programme, Pakistan Television has produced quality entertainment programmes, be it drama or music, which have been acknowledged the world over. "What we think to counter the Indian channels is to improve the quality of our entertainment programmes. It is the quality programme pertaining to the real life of a society which has longer lasting and even purposeful effects on the audience and not the vulgarity," he maintained.
Radio, being the cheapest and easy to carry, is still the most effective source of information for a much large strata of the population, has an edge over TV, specially in rural areas of the country.
In Pakistan there are 24 government-controlled radio stations being run by Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) which was established in 1972. It is broadcasting different programmes in 21 languages and dialects including English, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto, Balochi, Brahvi, Hindko, Chitrali, Kashmiri, Potohari, Saraiki and 14 foreign languages including Arabic, Bengali, French, Gujrati, Hindi, Tamil, Turkish, Chinese , Russian and other languages. It is, however, surprising to note that out of around 325 hours' transmission of different programmes in a day, 48 per cent of the time is consumed by music programmes which needed to be rectified. Rest of the programmes, such as sports, get 2 per cent of the time, Science and technology 2 per cent, women development 5 per cent, youth and children 3 per cent. Such a pattern of time consumption needs to be revised more productively. Spending a huge time for music alone makes no sense.
The private channel i.e. FM 100, instead of contributing to raise the level of awareness on a wide-range of issues and broadening the orientation and training process of the younger generation, is ridiculously using the entire time for music alone because of limited areas of operations, allowed by the government. It does not make any sense allowing a private Radio or TV only for music programmes.
There is a genuine need to allow at least more radio stations at district level for creating awareness among the people. These Radio channels can help a lot in resolving issues at local level on the pattern of local bodies if they are allowed to operate in health, education, civic and legal matters within the given legal framework. Not only these channels can create awareness among the people and the government but also help the law enforcement agencies in combating the most disturbing law and order issues.
It may be recalled that the caretaker government of Malik Meraj Khalid, in early 1997, had promulgated the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (EMRA) Ordinance 1997, which, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, had acknowledged two fundamental principles i.e. (a) the airwaves of the country are a national, public asset and not a government monopoly and (b) any interested, eligible private citizen or organisations have equal right to operate their own radio and TV channels, just as private citizens have a right to publish and edit their own newspapers and magazines.
The Ordinance No.XXXV of 1997, was to regulate electronic media in Pakistan, read: "Whereas it is necessary to provide for the development of electronic media in order to improve the standards of information, education and entertainment and to enlarge the choice available to the people of Pakistan in the media for news, current affairs, religious knowledge, art, culture, science, technology, economic development, social sector concerns, music, sports, drama and other subjects of public and national interest.
The Ordinance, however, lapsed before its enactment for the reasons best known to the government.
The concept regarding establishment of EMRA to regulate the electronic media was explained in the Ordinance that the Federal Government shall establish the authority in accordance with the provisions of this Ordinance, the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
The authority shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and the power to hold and dispose of property and may in its name sue and be sued.
The Chairman of the Authority shall be a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan while the six members of the Authority shall include the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Media Development and the Secretary, Ministry of Communications and four Members from the general public including one with an acknowledged record of work in radio, one with an acknowledged record of work in television, one with an acknowledged record of public service and one with an acknowledged record of work in the print media.
The Chairman and Members shall be appointed for a term of four years and shall not be removed before the expiry of their tenure except for misconduct or insanity or protracted illness.
The Authority shall be responsible for regulating the establishment and operation of all privately owned broadcast stations and the development of electronic media in Pakistan.
The Authority shall have exclusive right to issue lincences for the establishment and operation of all privately owned broadcast stations.
Terms and Conditions of Licence
A Broadcaster who is issued a licence under this Ordinance shall:
promote respect for the sovereignty, security and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Promote respect for the national, cultural and religious values as enshrined in the Objective Resolution.
Promote respect for the principles of public policy as enshrined in the Constitution of the country.
Ensure that his programmes and advertisements do not promote violence, terrorism, racial discrimination, religious sectarianism or hatred.
Promote respect for law, order and justice.
Allow rejoinder by persons aggrieved by broadcasting which has referred to them by name.
This Ordinance, however, was expired and currently it is not cleared which department or authority is responsible to regulate or look after the electronic media.
Recently, a six-hour programme of PTV transmissions has been initiated from Oslo, Norway under the title of Prime Television. The inauguration of the Oslo transmission was made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his way to Washington while some Pakistani artistes were also present on this inaugural ceremony. Initially some senior PTV officials have also been deputed there, the status of the Oslo transmission is, however, not clear whether it is being run officially or by the private concern. According to informed sources, one Abdul Jabbar from Lahore has purchased the time for 6-hour transmission.
Apart from the question of status of the Oslo transmission, by and large, it is a step in the direction to facilitate Pakistanis living abroad to keep them abreast with the latest developments in their homeland.
Such arrangements of transmission of PTV programmes including current affair and news and entertainment programmes must be of great interest for the Pakistanis living abroad and should be extended to other countries including UK, USA and Gulf states where a large number of Pakistanis are living.
Jawed Jabbar, a prominent media wizard and the former minister in the caretaker government of Meraj Khalid, while commenting on EMRA pointed out at least 10 solid reasons that why the EMRA law offers a unique opportunity to the present government to take truly decisive and meaningful step towards an authentic democratic system.
Spelling out the reasons, Jabbar said EMRA law provides for an open and transparent process by which citizens and organisations can apply for licences to operate their own Radio and TV stations in recognition of the principle that the airwaves of a country are a national asset which should be utilised only with prior public knowledge, not by the use of executive discretion in a secretive manner in favour of selected private parties.
The law facilitates the expression of the vibrant pluralism which characterises the society and which is in consonance with democracy. So far, the pluralism has been reflected in only a controlled and restricted manner through the print media which reaches less than 10 per cent of the population and through the restrictive interpretation of cultural pluralism in Radio and TV practiced for the past 5 decades by which pluralism is defined only in terms of folk dances and folk music.
Jabbar observed that EMRA law enables for the first time, the broadcast of non-official news bulletins and political affairs programmes by electronic media. In the case of radio, this would end a 50-year old monopoly on the officially certified truth and in the case of TV , the 30-year old monopoly of "Khabarnama'.
The EMRA law was supposed to specifically exclude state-owned electronic media from its purview there is inevitably an element of competition between state owned electronic media and the proposed privately owned electronic media.
The proposed law was aimed at ensuring that all private electronic media monopolies cease to exist. However, in doing so, the law did not envisage an overnight cessation which would be disruptive and destructive even through such private media monopolies such as NTM contract with STN, the FM-100 radio stations and Shaheen Pay TV were all created without going through due process of transparency and public competition. Rather the EMRA law enables such monopolies to apply afresh to the Authority within 6 months of the law coming into force for revalidation of their licences on a non-monopolistic basis.
According to Jawed Jabbar, one unique feature of this law was that it guarantees the right of reply to an individual or an organisation about whose conduct and character the content of a radio or TV programme may have made claims or statements which can be construed as being defamatory.
By opening the entire electronic media sector to private participation, Jawed Jabbar said that this proposed law had sought to encourage the electronic media in Pakistan to compete effectively with overseas electronic media, specially Indian controlled channels which are now tightening a stronghold over regional satellite TV in comparison of state owned TV in Pakistan. Notwithstanding its occasional excellence in some respect clearly lags far behind in content , candour, colour and in technical proficiency.
Most importantly Jawed Jabbar said that the proposed EMRA law was aimed at a new relationship between the people of Pakistan and electronic media. By permitting the creation of community-based radio stations.
Whether it is be for parts of a city or 100 villages in a Tehsil, the law visualises a new and purposeful use of media to promote participative development and the growth of institutions which will empower people at the grassroots level.
The EMRA law was the most progressive media law in Pakistan's history and is arguably the most advanced media law in South Asia, Jawed claimed.
Giving his views on the government's control over electronic media, Jawed Jabbar observed that it is true that as official electronic media it has the mandate to project, as far as possible, a positive image of the government of the day and of conditions in general. But the radio and TV have, in a way also rendered some service by either ignoring outright or downplaying events and trends which are divisive and violent nature and whose projection in the news may well have sparked damaging repercussions on a large scale.
The positive contributions of the government-controlled media are outweighed and neutralised by the negative role played by Radio and TV. The continuous government control undermines their performance. It distorts the content of news bulletins and current affairs programmes, stalls creativity in entertainment and general programmes etc.
On the political front, while a political party comes to power, the policy of controlled media is defended by the ruling party as it helps to project its policies, however, when the same party sits on the other side of the table, it strongly supports the freedom of media including the electronic media.
Recently an opposition leader has demanded a separate TV station for Sindh saying that the state-run Pakistan Television has become a mouthpiece of the ruling PML government.
The people of Sindh should establish their own Sindh television. He was of the view that the government was using the state-run radio and TV for holding media trial of its political opponents. He also pointed out what he called anti-opposition policy and said that there was no other alternative left with the people of Sindh but to set up their own TV station.
He recalled that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had also demanded a separate TV station and a bank for the province of Punjab when he was the Chief Minister of that province. He also said Nawaz Sharif had strongly pleaded the setting up of Punjab television by claiming that he was not being given "proper coverage" as Chief Minister of the province by the central government-controlled TV.
Contrary to this claims, the authorities at Radio Pakistan or for that matter in Pakistan Television are of the view that they have to follow the policy of the government in the larger national interest within the parameters evolved to safeguard and protect the interest of this nation.
Apart from the debate that what should be the role of the electronic media in Pakistan, a senior official of Radio Pakistan was proud of the contributions made by the radio both at the time of emergencies and peace. He said that the Radio Pakistan, although, is less popular in the urban areas because of glamorous TV receptions, yet its role is still unparallel in the rural areas and remote parts of the country. The radio is still contributing its unparallel role in the growth of agriculture sector which is the spinal cord of the national economy because radio is the only source of information which reaches to the lowest segment of the society.
The honour of announcing the historic words uttered by the firs announcer of Radio Pakistan, Mustafa Ali Hamdani, "This is Radio Pakistan" ,on the midnight of August 14, 1947 will always remains with the Radio Pakistan, he said proudly.
The electronic media in Pakistan has great potentials. Despite all glamour and colours being displayed by Indian channels, the forceful expressions of Pakistani plays and serials have forced the Indian channels to acquire them to telecast on their channels. Currently Hasina Moin's play "TANHA" on Star Plus is the best example of winning the game with a quality presentation. Pakistan's electronic media have the potential to counter the culture invasion through quality products. However, freedom" whether it pertains to man or electronic media, is such a precious word that is universally honoured and respected by all. However, freedom has also a limit. Its boundaries come to an end when it reaches to another's freedom. Keeping this principle in mind, freedom of electronic media should be allowed to prevail which would play a much better role for all segments of the society irrespective of the sides of the table.