Private TV channel: the government version
ISLAMABAD- A spokesman for the ministry of information and media development issued the following statement with reference to the report published by Dawn on July 22, Private TV channel war rages on”: “By its very title, as well as in the initial part of the text, the report conveys an incorrect and misleading impression about the ongoing review by the government about the status of SRBC (Shalimar Recording and Broadcasting Corporation’s) role in the TV sector.
As the government owns and controls 56 per cent of SRBC shares, any SRBC TV channel cannot be described as a ‘private channel.’ There is no intention on the part of the government to disinvest these 56 per cent shares at this time. Contrary to the term ‘war rages on’ used in the headline, there is no such intense conflict of views within government. Neither the minister nor any other official of the present government is ‘aligned with’ other officials in confrontation with another set of officers.
It is also absolutely untrue, as claimed in the report, that members of the government are questioning each other’s motives in this matter. Discussion and debate on different viewpoints cannot be interpreted as being based on vested interests. As on all policy issues, divergent viewpoints are taken note of before a final decision is taken. No accusations have been made, or traded.
There is also an attempt made in the report to insinuate and imply a lack of integrity on the holders of public office in this government in the statement contained in the said report to the effect; “There is a growing perception, based- perhaps on the assumption that nothing happens in this country unless there is a buck somewhere in it for someone, that the party which wins this tussle will win a personal jackpot out of public deals.”
Before casting such aspersions, the Dawn correspondent did not make any attempt to contact either the minister or the secretary of the ministry of information and media development to confirm, contradict, clarify, or deny the statements and presumptions made by the Dawn correspondent.
This is to categorically deny any personal interest, financial or otherwise, on the part of either the minister, or any official of the ministry in the matter regarding the past, present or future status of SRBC in the TV sector. This government’s policy and actions are solely in the public and national interest.
The objective of the ongoing review is to remove anomalies and distortions accumulated over the years in the relations between SRBC and PTV and to correct the errors of the past in order to enable both corporations to enhance their respective performance, profitability and public service. It is also regrettable that the report claims that there is a lack of transparency in this matter. As and when a policy decision is taken, the basis for taking the decision, and all relevant facts, will be made public.
In any case, no information has been withheld so far. As evident in the fact that the Dawn correspondent did not even care to contact the minister of information or the secretary to obtain their viewpoints on this subject before writing his report, the lapse has been committed by Dawn in rushing to presumptions and judgment without conducting the elementary exercise of interviewing all the relevant individuals.”
Mr Ziauddin added that present government is contemplating handing over the management of PTCL to a private party, which will lift only 16 per cent of its shares. So, by the very standards set by the government itself, the SRBC with 44 per cent of shares in the private sector has remained a privately-managed company until the PTV raided it and forced the NTM to hand over the air-time it had purchased from the SRBC, a process which smacked of nationalization in this age of market economy and privatization. Still, it is wrong to say, “as government owned and controlled 56 per cent of SRBC shares, any SRBC TV channel cannot be described as a ‘private channel.’
There is no attempt in the report to insinuate or imply a lack of integrity on the holders of public office in the government. In fact, all of them have been absolved of any wrongdoing in the following passage of the story: “But no one has come up so far with any concrete evidence of kickbacks and commissions having changed hands in the deals struck by the PTV since 1997 for the sale of its air-time. And there is also no evidence that the private shareholders of the SRBC, once they regard the right to sell the air-time of STN, will hand it over to a news paper magnate who has been superactive in the business of electronic media for now nearly a decade.”
The views of federal information minister on the issue were comprehensively covered in Dawn’s July 7 story on the subject (Tussle over private TV channel generating heat). So, it was not felt necessary to talk to him on the same subject once again.
The Dawn story of July 22 is hot based on: presumptions and judgments but it mainly flows from the allegations levelled against, the PTV MD, Yousaf Baig Mirza, by Rashid Latif, a three per cent private shareholder of the SRBC, in his 10-page letter to Dawn. The story itself attempted only to bring out the policy contradictions within the government. And this was done in the public interest and to stop the seeming backdoor attempts to nationalize the SRBC by vested interests.