PTI failed to give autonomy to PBC and PTV as promised in manifesto


Promise

Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf had promised in its Manifesto page 18 that the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and the Pakistan Television would be made autonomous with their own Board of Governors similar to the BBC model.  Contrary to the promise the PTI has made the Information Minister, Fawad Chaudhry the Chairman of the PTV Board.

  1. Introduction

Television was never the box it was the programming that was on the box—-says Chris Pizzuro, Vice President of Digital News Media, Turner Entertainment. Although the television media has experienced transforming changes in the past decade, it is important to keep in mind that the key to great television is still story telling. Television usually refers to professional programming that is distributed via land transmitter, cables, satellites, or online to general audience.

Television is considered a linear service—-that is, the broadcasting of a program where the network or station decides when the program will be offered, no matter what distribution platform is used.

Television in 1946 was primarily a “live” medium just like radio. Programming constituted mainly live programs of minor characters, mainly sporting events, second-rate motion pictures, some newscasts, and demonstrations and discussion programs.

With a few exceptions, all programs originated within the studio.  However, the public was enchanted with the new medium. Just seeing a picture in a store window was a new, exciting experience. Crowds would gather in restaurants and bars to watch sporting event and the new variety shows that were springing up. People accepted the new medium without questioning.

  1. Inception of Pakistan television

Pakistan television was born in 1964.  Call it a coincidence or timing that both the government and private channels were started during the reign of dictators. It was General Ayub Khan who gave the nod to bring television industry to Pakistan and it was General Pervaz Musahraf who gave a go ahead for the beginning of what came to be an avalanche of private channels in Pakistan.  As for the Pakistan television was concerned, the initiative was taken to get in line with the modern world of communication. However, for General Musharaf it was the Kargil war that left no option but to open up the television market to private media. While the Indian journalists were reporting live from the front line and beamed across the world, Pakistan was as usual using the government mouthpiece, the PTV, on which people had little trust In.

PTV offered fairly standard menu of programs, which included hour-long Urdu dramas, musical variety, religious programs, and American and British cartoons, sitcom and action adventure series.  PTV monopoly ended in 1992 when Shalimar TV began as a private channel under Nawaz Sharif ‘s government and leased time to CNN and Network Television Marketing (NTM).

Under General Zia’s era as one commentator claim, Pakistan television was ‘one of the main weapon of the rulers to implement the Islamization program.’ In 1997, when Nawaz Sharif was re-elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he appeased the conservative section by banning pop music, defining gender boundaries and demanded that programs be bought in line with Islamic values.

  1. Evolution of Television industry in Pakistan

The satellite explosion in the 1990’s led by access to Rupert Murdoch’s Star-TV made Pakistan television pale in comparison to American programs and the novelty offered by the Indian channels such as Zee TV.  A 1998 PTV analysis reported that people viewed the state run channel as boring, rigid and lifeless. This realization led to the opening o=up of satellite television in Pakistan. According to one survey Between 1993 to 1997, approximately 1.3 million households had access to satellite programming.

The evolution of the television industry is also attributed to the economic and social liberalization of the entertainment industry in Pakistan.  PTV was the worst hit as talent and artists started leaving to start their own production companies.  The strength of the PTV relied on its dramatic serial, with the drain of talent; the organization became a challenge that needed new input and new blood. This led to a new era of television industry in Pakistan.

  1. The emergence of private channels

The decision by General Musharraf to remove restriction on media ownership in 2000 led to the rapid growth of new satellite and cable channels based both in Pakistan and in the nearby Gulf states such as Dubai. This policy opened up an array of foreign models to choose from. The new channels capitalized on the need for news channels, the routine liking for the Urdu Drama and a youth market for music.  By 2007 there were a total of 54 satellite channels, including 6 PTV channels.

As said in above lines the decision to open up private market for private channels emerged from the absence on the international front of Pakistan’s story during the Kargil war.  According to Adnan Rehmat, a Country Director for Internews, “Musharraf felt Pakistan was losing the information and cultural war to India.”

Musharraf also laid the foundation of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.  It issues licenses for satellite channels, radio stations and cable operation and acts as a government’s watchdog.  Though the government claimed that PEMRA would be an autonomous body, the claim was never made with an honest intention. In fact, at a news conference in 2007, Brigadier Shakeel Ahmed, Head of Cable TV at PEMRA claimed, “We (PEMRA) have to ensure that this broadcasting sector is not used against the state, the masses and the public and it does not instigate religious factions.”

Government control over PTV

The stranglehold of successive governments over the state-run media exercised through the information ministry has created a culture that keeps officials and producers on their toes. They live in a perpetual state of fear and perform their assignments in a state of uncertainty. They desperately look for safety measures in order to save themselves from wrath and humiliation showered day in and day out upon them by functionaries.

The absence of a clear-cut policy, excessive interference on the part of governments and, above all, the rampant culture of sycophancy and lack of courage to speak the truth have often led to disastrous situations.

Senator Pervez Rashid, who served as PTV chairman for a brief period in the Nawaz Sharif government of the ’90s, once said on record that controlling and managing the PTV Khabarnama was the most difficult assignment he ever undertook. The flurry of telephone calls from the highest offices in the land was enough to give him sleepless nights.

The newly inducted PTI-led government has promised to unshackle the state-controlled media, but similar loud claims were also made in the past. So some amount of scepticism is not out of place.

It is a wholly welcome pledge and it is possible to implement — if Prime Minister Imran Khan and Information Minister Chaudhry demonstrate iron will. Virtually all newly installed governments have made pledges to depoliticize state-run media and all have failed to do so. In previous eras, controlling PTV and Radio Pakistan gave political governments and military dictatorships a substantial political advantage; PTV and Radio Pakistan were the primary sources of news and information for a majority of Pakistan. Today, in a seemingly cacophonous but in reality controlled media landscape, the temptation to keep PTV and Radio Pakistan under political control will also be great.

The quest to depoliticize PTV and Radio Pakistan could have two additional benefits at this juncture. First, with the mainstream private media facing pervasive interference and coercion, a reinvigorated state-run media could help right the balance in the overall media landscape by creating a professional, depoliticized product. Second, the PTI has not championed the cause of a free and independent media as much as it could have as a major political force. Fixing PTV could help demonstrate the PTI’s commitment.

“It is unfortunate that in the past, appointments were made without advertising the posts or holding a competitive process. People would file application on plain paper and they would be appointed and paid high salaries of Rs400, 000. There are examples that the day after the appointments were made, it was decided that the salary will be increased from Rs400, 000 to Rs500, 000,” Mr Sukhera said. He is also the managing director of PTV.

Promise Tracking

The Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Fawad Chaudhary, told Truth tracker that he has appointed Malik Ahmad Nawaz of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to the PTV board of directors, to ensure that the mainstream opposition political parties had a say in the state broadcaster’s affairs. He said that his government has no design of curbing Media and that the PTV would be made as much independent as possible.

Senator Robina of PPP said that the PTI government has no intention to make media free, what to talk about the PTV. She further claimed that Imran Khan is following the agenda of other forces, which had the desire to keep the broadcasting media under its thumb. “Look at the channels, there are hardly opinions given, what we hear is only information, which is repeated from one news outlet to the other.”  She added that PTV would keep serving the interest of the government.

Expert opinion

Senior journalist, Murtaza Solangi told Truth Tracker: “Many were hopeful when they saw PTI manifesto on its page 18, pledging transforming PTV and PBC (Radio Pakistan) on the lines of BBC.  They are only a few days away from completing their 100 days but they have done just the opposite of what they promised.” He said that the PTI has created new boards comprising of some handpicked favorites along with Baboos of different ministries.  All that has been done without any input of the civil society and no inclusion of any renowned journalist or editor in there.  The newly created boards repeat the anomaly created by Gen Musharraf who included DG ISPR in both boards.  That has continued in the new boards under Naya (new) Pakistan, he added.  “Gone are the promises and we are back to square one.  What a betrayal.”

Ruling:

In the light of multiple perspectives and facts extracted from various sources, Truth Tracker rules that the PTI’s promise about autonomy of PTV and PBC stands broken.

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