PTV in secret talks for $45m deal
By: Ahmad Noorani
ISLAMABAD: In an extremely dubious and questionable move, the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) is all set to finalise a joint venture project with the Zee media group of India.
Sources say that at the initial stage the deal amounts to 300 to 400 crores ($35 to $45 million) whereas on the next stage it will be much more than this.
After the state-owned airline’s secret deals, first with Turkish Airlines and then with a Dubai company for supply of all spare parts, the state television, determined not to be left behind, is also on the verge of a secret deal with the Indian Zee, aimed at allowing Indian channels into the Pakistani market.
In countries all over the world, the entry of foreigners into the fields of communications and media are subject to extreme scrutiny and restrictions.In Pakistan, under Pemra Ordinance 2002, the parliament has itself imposed a mandatory condition that no licence may be given in Pakistan, be it for broadcasting, landing rights or cable operators, to any entity that is owned by a foreigner or is controlled from outside Pakistan. Section 25 of Pemra Ordinance 2002, provides that “A licence shall not be granted to – (a) a person who is not a citizen of Pakistan or resident in Pakistan; (b) a foreign company organised under the laws of any foreign government; or (c) a company the majority of whose shares are owned or controlled by foreign nationals or companies.”
While the details of the secret deal being negotiated by MD PTV, himself a former employee of Zee, are still shrouded in secrecy, as the first part of the long term arrangement, PTV has agreed to facilitate the Indian media group Zee to acquire exclusive rights to show, through Zee’s subsidiary Ten Sports many upcoming events.
How the Indian media group Zee, either directly or through its subsidiary Ten Sports, will be allowed to show live series of Pakistani team on cable and satellite, is not clear yet. As the whole arrangement is being negotiated amid extreme secrecy, just like PIA, it is not clear as to what assets or interests of PTV will be purchased by Zee.
How our state-owned channel has entered into a joint venture with Zee whereas on the other side Pakistani players were not allowed to take part in IPL and Pakistani channels are not given licence in India is a concern raised by media analysts. Zee owned company Taj Television Limited runs channel Ten Sports.
Strangely, just like the PIA deal, the PTV-Zee deal is being worked out in complete secrecy. The whole deal completely flies in the face of the most sacred pillar of the whole media regulatory regime that was put in place by the parliament in 2002, i.e. exclusion of foreigners and with Pemra or government having no discretion or power to give a single exemption to this rule.
But what is even more strange is that this complete U-turn in the media policy, allowing banned media channels into Pakistani media scene through PTV, was never discussed either in the parliament or even the cabinet.
Continued secrecy and the government’s failure to clarify its position on this issue will serve as feeding rumour that just like PIA, perhaps all or some interests or rights of PTV are being sold to Zee through one of Zee’s subsidiaries. It may be recalled that the present Managing Director of PTV, Yousuf Beg Mirza, has been a full-time employee of the Indian Zee, with which he still enjoys deep and personal relations.
PTV MD Yousuf Baig Mirza, when approached by The News, said that the deal negotiations are still underway and there were no vested interests of any body involved and no governments are on the scene. “This is purely a dealing between two channels,” Mirza said, adding, “I only know that Ten Sports is owned by Abdul Rehman Bukhatir and news regarding purchasing of Ten Sports by Zee are merely rumours.” Mirza said that as this was simply a business deal between tow channels so there was no need to take permission from government or security establishment.
Federal Secretary Information Taimur Azmat Usman, when approached by The News, was of the view that no such deal is finalised yet and only negotiations are underway. Taimur, who is also chairman PTV, said that if PTV headed forward to sign any agreement with Zee, permission will be sought from government as well as from security establishment of the country and without this finalising any deal was impossible.
Former chairman and MD of PTV and senior PML-N leader Pervaiz Rashid while talking to The News said that any agreement is always subject to law of the land and the Supreme Court judgements are also considered as law. He said if any agreement will be against the law of the land, it will be rejected at first instant.
There was also a concern pointed out that merit-based process and open transparency is needed and there may be a severe violation of process being followed in open engagement and tender procedures that should be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee.
Pervaiz Rashid said, Â“I don’t know about any such joint venture agreement but we will have to see that if state-owned channel is going for such a joint venture with some foreigner group, whether other Pakistani channels are also allowed to go for similar joint venture.” He said that Pakistani channels are not allowed in India. “We will make sure that any change in policy should have been made on the principles of equality and by keeping in view the national ego and sovereignty,Â” he added.
Senator Tariq Azeem, member of the Senate Standing Committee on Information and formerly member of the Parliamentary Committee on Sports, while talking to The News condemned moves of the present PTV management to go ahead to sign a joint venture bidding agreement without taking the parliament and parliamentary committees into the confidence. He said that different Pakistani channels use air news regarding Indians and also show Indian content in the name of culture but even then Indians do not allow Pakistani channels in India. He said that this was very serious issue and he will try his best to highlight the same and bring it before his parliamentary committee. Tariq Azeem was of the view that law of the land and Supreme Court judgements must be respected. He said that if the law and the Supreme Court judgement did not allow such type of dubious agreements which are even kept secret the parliament will take every measure to stop the same attempt by using the name of PTV.
Some important circles in Islamabad and Rawalpindi are also closely monitoring the developments and are investigating as to who is the real beneficiary of the whole game and which power is behind this game plan and what are its real objectives. Sources have indicated that high ups in PTV have a personal interest in stake in Zee and are reported to have personal financial gain and commission involved which may be legal.
Source: The News