PML-N compromises promise to make state-run PTV an independent channel

Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) had promised in its 2013 manifesto that upon coming to power, they would make Pakistan Television an independent channel.

Pakistan Television was established in 1964. It expanded quickly and by 1974, it was broadcasting from Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. Right from the beginning, PTV has been dubbed as a mouthpiece of the government; disseminating propaganda and portraying the state’s policy.  Pakistani media could not find the freedom it required for unbiased reporting and programing until the dawn of Musharraf’s era—a military dictator. However, PTV does not enjoy the credibility of being an impartial channel. The government directly owns and controls it, due to which, it reflects the government’s views in the news coverage.

Over the past 15 years, the media has grown exponentially in Pakistan, and there are countless TV channels. The competition among the channels is tough but it appears to have no effect on the quality of the programmes run on PTV.  Poor production quality has become its hallmark.

It has been reported that in the tenure of the existing PML-N government, PTV has suffered the loss of worth Rs 1.12 billion. Nearly 70 per cent of PTV’s budget is spent on human resource, and a meagre 30 per cent goes to programming.  Experts believe that there could be two reasons behind this disproportionate spending of funds.  Either, like any other state run organization, the PTV is overstaffed, or the employees are being paid unreasonably high salaries that do not consummate with their professional calibre.

PTV has almost no independence and enjoys a poor reputation for impartiality.  It even does not stand among the top 10 channels of the country, in spite of having the potential to penetrate into areas where other broadcasters cannot reach.

Because of the deteriorating quality of PTV in both news and programming, it has been suggested to run it along the lines of BBC, which despite being a state-run broadcaster does not serve as a mouthpiece for the government in power.

It is the taxpayers’ money that is being used to run PTV; people deserve to see their views and taste reflected in the channel.

Truth Tracker talked to the former Minister for Information, Pervez Rasheed about the promise of making PTV independent. He said:  “It was our intention to make PTV an independent body and we still believe that it should be made autonomous and that like BBC, PTV should serve the objectives of the state and not of any government.”

Giving reasons for the inability of his government in not getting PTV independent, he said, “When the PML-N came to power, they had bigger issues to address, such as terrorism and load shedding that demanded undivided attention.” He lamented that the government was thrown into a situation of political chaos by the Imran Khan-led sit-ins in 2014. He said that under such circumstances, it became difficult for the government to follow the true spirit of its manifesto.  Further explaining the issue, Rasheed said that making PTV an autonomous body, involved legislation, for which they would needed the Senate on their side. “We have experienced,” the former minister for information said, “that whenever the government had taken the step of either privatizing or making a state-run institution independent, unions intervene due to support from the opposition and the pace of progress was halted.”

General Manager Pakistan Television Lahore, Basharat Khan, told Truth Tracker that the PTV had never received any policy instruction from the government about making PTV free of government influence. “However, we have never been forced by the government to avoid the participation of the parties in opposition in our current affair programs or to give a distorted version of their views.” He further said that as a policy matter we could not broadcast anything that was against the ideology of Pakistan or the army or Islam.

Fawad Chaudhry, a PTI spokesperson, while talking to Truth Tracker said that it was difficult for this government to make PTV autonomous.  “When the bureaucracy in this country serves the purpose of the government, how can PTV, being a media house, become independent?” he asked. However, Chaudhry said that the PTI had been in favour of eliminating the Ministry of Information. “A board of independent people should be appointed to head PTV.” “The idea of having a state-run television station,” elaborated Chaudhry, “should be to give the view of the state and not of the government in power.”

Independent View
Mansoor Afaq, columnist and news analyst while talking to Truth Tracker, said that PTV, like any other state-run organization had been mercilessly used to hire useless people. He added that under the previous Managing Director, PTV had stopped in-house production and was outsourcing programming. “This trend of taking PTV away from in-house programming damaged the quality of the programs.” “However, Afaq said, “under Attaul Haq Qasmi, as the Chairman PTV, at least a revival of in-house programming had started and people are made to earn their salaries.”

The PML-N government, according to its statement, has been unable to fulfil its promise of making the PTV an autonomous body.  Hence, their promise stands compromised.

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