Of Pakistan Television's (PTV's) "freedom" -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Of Pakistan Television’s (PTV’s) “freedom”

At the recently concluded PTV General Managers Conference, GOP’s Information Secretary was reported to have said that “the present government firmly believes in the freedom of expression and (that) it has granted un-precedented freedom to Pakistan Television.” For enlightened citizens, who have lived with the shenanigans of PTV, it smacked of a repetition of the statements made earlier by faithful bureaucrats to shield the rulers from the adverse fallout of their unpopular policies.

Moreover, ground realities point to the other direction as political opposition in Pakistan seldom receives any attention from PTV media managers, notwithstanding some exceptions like the ongoing weekly stint named, ‘Makalma’. On the contrary, PTV was abused by the rulers to completely black out opposition’s political agenda and activities.

Browsing the pages of PTV history one discovers that it has served, or was forced to serve, rulers of all kinds: military dictators, pseudo-socialists, and quasi-democrats. By blowing up the so-called achievements of the rulers in different fields of human endeavors, it glorified the “successes” of a microscopic minority, which has arrogated to itself the right to rule a vast majority of people of this country.

Doubtless, television has become the most important force in this Information Technology Age, because it is capable of influencing the minds, emotions, and social responses of the people. It also affects the lifestyles, socio-cultural, even political agenda of the people in several different ways. All governments, since its inception on November 26, 1964, have used the official electronic medium for over-projecting their policies and, at the same time, gagging voices of dissent by denying politicians from other side of the political divide the right to project their points of view on important national issues. Not only that Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC) has been (and continues) to present distorted pictures of those political activists, who do not see eye to eye with the government on important national policies and issues.

The decision to set up TV broad-casting centers in the country in 1964 was hailed as Pakistanis were provided the luxury of watching programmes on the mini screen much before the rest of the Third World countries (including India) thought of it. It was hailed as a sign of economic progress over-blown during the “Decade of Development” by the Ayub government. Before TV programmes mounted airwaves, Ayub had gagged the press and had the radio sung praises for him. He wanted the tube also to focus on his epaulettes. Due to the limitation of technology, PTV’s reach did not cover as much populace as it does now.

The irony of the fate is that the late dictator allowed PTV some freedom in the beginning, but later turned it into a handmaiden of his unrepresentative government. His successors followed the same policy and encouraged servility within the ranks of PTV top brass.

The impact of sycophantic behavior of PTV officialdom became starkly evident in its news and views presentations and current affairs stints, a reality which the PTV media managers refused to admit.

Consequently, the credibility of official electronic medium suffered, and the viewers refused to believe in what PTV news bulletins churned out daily, especially about political events taking place in the country. They were forced to switch to other channels to as certain the truth about certain incidents.

For servile bureaucrats in the Ministry of Information, television is required to conduct its operations only in “public interest,” although no precise definition of public interest has ever been given. On the contrary, it was subjected to a medley of tainted explanations, which pandered to the whims, and fancies of the rulers.

From the standpoint of enlightened viewers, government should not get into the business of broadcasting and also should not concern itself in any way with the content and character of the telecasts. They argue that PTV should be converted into an independent corporation, free from regulations other than the ones stipulated in its Charter.

What the country needs, they contend, is a vigorous, free, unrestricted television, if it is to remain in business in this fast-shrinking world, which is currently been subjected to round the clock onslaught by hundreds of TV networks via satellite. Mini screen is like newspapers, and the government has no more right to concern itself with what is telecast than it has the right to interfere in what is printed.

Source: The Nation
Date:5/8/2001