Media industry way behind its potential
ISLAMABAD: Pemra formed in March 2002 has failed to realize the true potential of the electronic media industry due to appointments of government officials as chairman or acting chairman without any media background in contravention of Pemra Ordinance and against judgments of Supreme Court.
The media and entertainment industry accounts for 2-3 % of GDPs in different countries. The Indian media and entertainment industry has grown to over USD 15 billion per annum whereas Pakistan’s industry has not even crossed the USD one billion mark.
The Pemra Ordinance mandates that a chairman should have “substantial experience in media” besides other conditions. However, the Authority has been run by retired and serving officials from the Police Service of Pakistan for more than half of the time since its inception in March 2002. Other government officials without any media background have been serving as chairman or acting chairman for remainder of the period.
Even now, Pemra is run by an acting chairman who is a serving officer from the Police Service of Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan removed an acting chairman of Pemra in Dec 2012 on the grounds that there is no provision for an acting chairman in Pemra ordinance. In its judgment in PLD SC 244 of 2013, Supreme Court directed that the position of chairman Pemra has to be filled by a person who fulfils the exceptional and stringent requirements prescribed in the Pemra Ordinance and not by a casual appointee.
The Supreme Court on Aug 19, 2015 took serious exception to the functioning of the present acting chairman in view of its previous judgments on the matter and directed the federal government to appoint a full time chairman within 30 days after public advertisement. However the Authority continues to function under an acting chairman in contravention of Supreme Court directions.
Pemra chairmen have not only been appointed against the spirit of its own Ordinance but have been embroiled in different controversies either of their own doing or by the Government of the Day. Mushtaq Malik, a serving bureaucrat who became chairman in early 2008 did not complete his tenure and resigned prematurely. He was succeeded by an Acting Chairman Mr Abdul Jabbar during whose tenure the Authority was taken to court on a number of issues. Mr Jabbar was arrested in 2014 by FIA with other DG level officers of Pemra for alleged irregularities in hiring of officers in Pemra. Mr Jabbar was removed by Supreme Court from position of acting chairman in Dec 2012 for reasons mentioned in above paras.
Ch Rashid Ahmed then took over as Chairman Pemra but was removed by the present government for deficiencies in his appointment procedure. It’s reported that Ch Rashid recommended his own name as chairman Pemra when he was secretary information. Ch Rashid case is still pending final decision in Supreme Court. At one point in time, ex-Acting Chairman Mr Jabbar and deposed Chairman Ch Rashid were in court against each other after leveling different charges.
The present government then put in place another ad hoc arrangement by posting a retired police officer to run the affairs of Pemra who retired in May 2015 and is succeeded by a serving official of Police Service who continues to date.
Media industry may have its own shortcomings and faces continuous criticism by general public and different pillars of state. However, the handling of the media industry by successive governments seems inclined to snub its growth and exert control than to let media flourish and have enough resources to lift the professional, investment and technological standards of the industry. Broadcasters survive on one revenue stream i.e. advertising and do not receive due amount from distribution networks for carriage of their channels. Pakistani viewers have complaints about obscenity on distribution networks, some of the content on TV channels, quality of TV reception and customer care.
It’s for the quality of Pemra leadership since its inception and intent of successive governments that Pakistan ranks 159 out of 180 countries in the latest freedom of media index published by an international organization affiliated with United Nations.