Prime objection: The local television industry is protesting the airing of imported productions fearing its collapse
By: Syed Moayyed Ali Jafri
The recent issue regarding airing of foreign dramas on Pakistani channels has rung up bells, gongs and what not, of concern and alarm among artistes and producers.
“It’s important to understand what we are most concerned about; it definitely is not the competition, has very little to do with the content of foreign drama, and has everything to do with the economics of a level playing field vis-à-vis local and international entertainment production”, says Humayun Saeed.
Their prime objection, at least for now, is that these imported productions should not be aired at prime time as it is going to cause a collateral collapse of the local television industry.
An elaborate and animated press conference, by a star-studded cast including Chairman Rashid Khwaja, Asif Raza Mir, Humayun Saeed, Saba Hameed and Mustafa Qureshi, was held to voice the reservation of the United Producers Association (UPA), which is a registered trade body.
Their demand is that the Federal Government and the Pakistan Electronic Media regulatory Authority (PEMRA) should take immediate action to regulate the influx of foreign dubbed content on TV channels as it is directly affecting the local television industry.
The problem with this demand, however, is that it is beyond Pemra’s scope of work to devise or implement such a policy, explained Zahid Nadeem, Deputy General Manager Pemra. “Pemra rules delineate that any Pakistani Channel has the discretion of airing ten percent foreign content. It is strictly the choice of the channel as to which country’s content it wants to air and at what time. It is for the market forces to decide the factors UPA wants Pemra to regulate,” explains Nadeem.
The absence of a framework that provides protection to the local television industry is the very reason this issue has surfaced in the first place.
In most countries of the world, local production is not only groomed under a loose garb of protectionism, but this protection of television entertainment is used to enhance tourism and employment. Canada is one such country, where if one needs to air content on a Canadian channel one needs to have a specific proportion of cast/crew of Canadian origin and/or the content be shot in Canada.
India too practices a stringent policy regarding content aired on indigenous channels at prime time. The question therefore is what unsurpassable economic or technical expertise our local television production industry has that merits no protection in this regard.
It can be argued that the local television industry has kept up some quality standards, especially those of soap-operas and dramas. With the advent of private channels and a much wider canvas to exhibit on, the industry has seen a boom in terms of economic activity, employment and even a range of innovations.
That precisely is the reason Humayun Saeed believes this industry needs protection. “The significant growth in amount of capital, human resource and infrastructure this industry has employed will collapse if their prime time is replaced by cheaply-bought decades-old foreign dubbed dramas,” he says. “Although it might sound a little out of place but it’s like a thrift shop up against new garments; and not just that, you are throwing the local producers out of the market to sell their product on sidewalks while giving the thrift shop a prime outlet in the top markets,” says Director Syed Faisal Bukhari.
‘The most alarming fact is that six on-air serials have been taken off the air to make way for foreign dubbed content,” says veteran film and television artiste Mustafa Qureshi. “It is a conspiracy to crush local entertainment industry in all its forms. When the film industry was ambushed, nobody agreed with us but it’s only now that the television producers have realised when they’ve had to take the same heat.”
Is it glamour and skin-show among the prime reasons for high viewership of these dramas? And is this all that the audience yearns for? Senior artiste Samina Ahmed disagrees. “The science and theory of viewership lays it out plainly that you can create viewership of a particular genre which might not reflect a community’s aspirations and norms”, she says. “Prime time, in addition to its monetary significance, is also important as this is the time when families gather in front of the television screens; they desire content that they can relate to and connect to, not what would create an air of uneasiness in the TV lounge.”
Ahmed identifies the basic problem is that Pemra, in devising a mechanism that deals only with the channel owners, very conveniently forgot the main production hub, where all infrastructure and employment is hinged. “PEMRA needs to reconsider its modus-operandi and must reform this system by bringing UPA on board all decisions that might in any way affect the television industry.”