Cable TV attracts Rs7.28b investment in 2002-03
LAHORE-The cable TV is the largest and fastest-growing medium among the country’s electronic media, as some Rs7.28b, it is estimated, have already been pumped into the sector.
The investment is believed to be growing at the phenomenal rate of 132pc annually. While the sector is employing some 30,000 people, cable TV is estimated to have already entered some four millions homes. The information has been disclosed in the annual report on the activities of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) presented by its chairman Muhammad Javed for he year 2002-2003.
This is the second performance report of the PEMRA, established on March 1, 2002 under the ‘EMRA Ordinance 2002.
In the days ahead, cable TV’s spread is bound to grow still larger along with its infrastructure, business, workforce and clientele, the report suggests. Almost all the world TV networks have switched ver to decoder, expensive gadgetry not within the means of the bulk of people. But with just a paltry sum, they can access them all through the agency of cable TV. And this is what the people are doing increasingly in Pakistan, as elsewhere in the world.
The national cable TV sector is indeed set to prosper because of the Authority’s two landmark decisions. One is to allow exceedingly low license rates, almost 70 pc, less than the normal, for establishing cable TV stations in the rural areas. The country folks who make up the 7(} pc of our people understandingly cannot be left out from availing of the latest media technologies for entertainment, information and education. They must have as much media access and choices as have there urban cousins. And since the private enterprises is not sufficiently motivated to set shop in remoter areas, some incentives were needed to draw it in there. Hence, this decision.
The other is to bring home the Multi-channel Multi-point Distribution System (MMDS) as part of the Authority’s charter to introduce the latest in media technologies to the country. For its pluses in bandwidth utilization, data transmission, signals quality and distribution spectrum, this most advanced system in digital technology is currently making waves the world over.
With its capability to distribute 60 digital channels. The MMDS was a natural choice for the Authority to bring home, to the people’s benefit. The process has been set in motion for the establishment of the MMDS stations by private entrepreneurs in the country. Some 18 companies have successfully bid for setting up 24 stations in different cities. This new venture is sure to open up yet another avenue to the private cable sector to flourish.
But the CTV sector, sadly, remains problematic. Not infrequently professionalism, ethics and morality are seen here being beheaded nonchalantly at the chopping block of stark business interests’ The public outcry never subsides over the cable operators’ quality of service and the programme brew they serve to the subscribers. It only rages.
Of course, it isn’t right to put all the dirty eggs in the cable operators’ basket. Nor is it fair to put them in the dock for every act of omission and commission. Atleast in the choice of channels for viewing, the subscribers can themselves be more prudent and selective. Nevertheless, it is the operators’ primary responsibility to give them satisfactory quality service, In deed going by the public complaints that the Authority receives formally and informally, it’s the quality of service that draws them flak even severer than what they get on the score of pornography and obscenity. So much so, out of the 1004 written complaints that the authority received during the year, 640 related to the quality of service as against 263 that related to obscenity.
The situation on the cable TVs front is disquieting, no doubt. But it isn’t tirredeemable either. Infact, the repair process seems to have already begun. The indications are too compelling. As for instance, the cable operators issued licenses by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, which was handling this job before the PEMRA’s advent, were found evasive in having them renewed. But they have evidently begun shedding off their initial reluctance and are now increasingly coming forward to get them renewed, presumably for the advantages that accrue in terms of protections, safeguards and security from being a PERMA family’s member. Nearly half of them had done it by the year’s end. The rest were expected to follow suit.
The Authority has setup a slew of systems and mechanisms, all having full legal backup, to put order to the as-yet some what chaotic cable TV sector. With the establishment of its fully functional regional offices, armed with inspection teams, and the Council of complaints, plus its own paraphernalia at the head office, the authority has acquired a sizeable muscle to exact compliance from cable operators to its regulatory regime and the code of ethics, flush, out those operating illegally, collect its dues and recover areas from them.
Nonetheless, the Authority’s preferred instruments still remains the language of persuasion than the stick of law. It is the Authority’s firm conviction that persuasion works well to keep the people on the right track and impel the erring to mend their ways. The stick, at times, creates problems where none exist, unnecessarily precipitates avoidable tensions and conflicts and even throws up undesirable crises.
The Authority has sought to involve the community intimately, actively and in an organized manner in its vigilance of the cable TV sector. Worth particular mention is the creation of a countrywide PEMRA Friends club, composed of public-spirited people, educationists, social workers, journalists, local opinion leaders, and retired judges and civil and military officers.
They volunteered to get drafted in the campaign in response to the Authority’s public call. Some 102 of them are already in position in various cities. They monitor the cable operations in their neighbor hoods for quality of service and channels and programmes being put out and report to the Authority.
There is nothing unusual about this kind of voluntary system of monitoring. It is in vogue in many country, not just in the media field but in diverse other domains. In fact, some states have found business rivalries and jealousies as a great revealer of the errant, the deviant and the evader. In our case, the induction of volunteers in the monitoring of cable TV networks was far more compelling due to their expanse. They spread out all over the country a span that understandably is impossible to scan by the authority all alone.
It is too big for its own enforcement staff to monitor and will remain so. Rather, this deficiency is bound to increase in view of the magnitude and speed with which the cable TV is expanding in the country. And consequently more voluntary induction for monitoring activity would be required by the Authority.
All said and told, t6e mechanisms and systems instituted by the Authority to keep an eye on cable operations are demonstrably working and paying off. Yet, it would be unrealistic to assume there would be ever no errors or erratic behaviors.Speaking realistically, in spite of all its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms of the Authority, wrongs will be committed because that is how the human nature works. But what is important is to note that there is a perceptible turn around in the situation. And there is a definite positive change in the cable operator community’s own out look and thinking. Additionally it would not be wrong to say that in times ahead the abiders will Be far more than the offenders.
FM Radios the Authority was heartened by the enthusiastic response that its calls forbid drew. And by the end of the year it had handed over as many as 29 licenses for FM radio stations. Quite delightfully, among the licenses for FM radio stations. Quite delightfully among the licensees were the country’s three top ranking universities: the PU, the Peshawar Urtiversity and the International Islamic University of Islamabad.
Satellite TV The Authority decided to start with the process to award satellite television broadcast station licenses to Pakistani companies incorporated under the CompamiesOrd,1984,and laid out an elaborate procedure of processing and scrutiny of the applications.The 10 aspirants who formally applied for setting up satellite TV stations in response to the Authority’s public notice were subjected to the prescribed criterion and scrutiny. Only seven could come up to the fixed benchmarks. The Virtual University, Lahore, was the first to get license to operate two educational satellite TV channels from Pakistan. The issuance of license to the other six applicants was in advanced stage of finalization as the year closed.
Finances The Authority had budgeted Rs99.997m for the year’s expenditure. But with tight checks and controls, it kept the actual spending contained at Rs70.320m, there by netting a net saving of Rs29.676m. Similarly, it had fixed the year’s revenue targets at RslOO m. But with concerted efforts for revenue generation and collection of dues and arrears, the Authority earned Rs.lll .540 m, thus exceeding the targets by 11.540m.