A rejoinder to Pemra rebuttal
ISLAMABAD: The press release issued by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Monday misrepresents the position of Cross Current Pvt Ltd (CCPL) in its CMA in the Supreme Court against the ongoing DTH process. The press release states that CCPL filed CMA challenging acting chairman’s legal status whereas the CCPL CMA was against the impact on the feasibility of its DTH project by present DTH bidding process.
The CCPL held that Pakistan market can only have 1-2 DTH projects as per Indian and international data and Pemra’s auction of three licences would jeopardise CCPL’s project. Nowhere the legal status of acting chairman was challenged in the said CMA by the CCPL. It’s very deplorable that Pemra has linked a Supreme Court order to strengthen its position in the legal challenge to acting chairman by another petitioner in Islamabad High Court and also the objections raised by Ministry of Information against acting chairman conduct of ongoing DTH process.
Whereas Pemra wrongly links a Supreme Court order to defend the legal status of acting chairman, Pemra spokesperson conveniently ignores a categoric order by the Supreme Court on Aug 19, 2015, which expressed severe reservations against functioning of an acting chairman and asked the federal government to appoint a new chairman in 30 days. In the same case, the SC had already dismissed an acting chairman Pemra in December, 2012, stating that no such post exists in Pemra Ordinance. In numerous statutory provisions for different organisations and constitutional posts, the role of acting chairman is defined and it is meant to handle day-to-day affairs and leave policy decisions to full-time chairman, a fact which Pemra management does not want to acknowledge in its rebuttal.
The Federal Ministry of Information has also reiterated this position in writing to Pemra to stop the ongoing DTH licence process till the new chairman selected after due process and under Supreme Court orders, takes charge
Regarding comments on Cross Current and another licensee DTH project in its previous DTH bidding in 2003, Pemra defends its denial of licence without disclosing facts. Under Pemra law, it has to allow or deny a licence in 100 days. However it took Pemra almost two years to issue bid acceptance letter which was done due to political pressures under General Pervez Musharraf regime. Due to abnormal delay in approving the bids, Indian DTH operators took over available satellite capacity and equipment cost had sky rocketed which undermined CCPL project feasibility. Pemra then took further licence fee from the bidders but did not issue terms and conditions and contract despite committing in writing to issue a provisional licence. In fact previous governments led by Gen Pervez Musharraf and then Asif Ali Zardari had no intention to give licence to bidders. The successful bidders had proposed a bouquet of channels, tariff and technology plan as asked in Pemra bidding document and without Pemra’s response, the bidders did not know what channels it can distribute and what tariff it can sell the channels for. During the six years which Pemra took to cancel bidders licence, never once it disclosed the final terms and conditions of the contract, which reflects its misuse of regulatory position.
During this time, PTV which never participated in Pemra DTH licence bidding, issued four tenders for a DTH project and Pemra never stopped PTV from frustrating the bidders’ efforts to launch projects. It was during this time that Indian DTH services flooded the Pakistan market.
Pemra press release quotes its consultants report to justify the number of licences and licence base price but does not give any data whereas Jang/ The News report gave accurate data to justify number of DTH licences in Pakistan and the licence base price.
Pemra justifies its conduct of present process under an acting chairman under the approval given by the Authority on Aug 11, 2013. Pemra spokesperson again conveniently ignores the Supreme Court decision in this regard which struck off the Content Regulation 2013 duly approved by a Pemra Authority under an acting chairman on the grounds that the Authority is not properly constituted and there is no provision of acting chairman Pemra and that acting chairman can only take day-to-day decision and not long term policy decisions.
Pemra spokesperson also has no comment to offer on the fact that Pemra has been governed by police officers including present acting chairman for half of its life and rest by bureaucrats. This is in contravention of the Pemra Ordinance which stipulates that the chairman Pemra should have “substantial experience in media”.
Pemra spokesperson also has no comment to offer on the unprecedented denial to broadcasters licensed by Pemra to participate in DTH bidding. There is no parallel or example in international media industry that broadcasters are excluded from a DTH licence bidding process for 15 years. Pemra spokesperson is also quiet on the discriminatory treatment to broadcasters against constitutional provision for freedom of expression and right to do business by denying them participation in DTH bidding. This implies that for next 15 years, the broadcasters would have no control or say in how their TV channels are priced and sold to Pakistani subscribers, how their channels are marketed and sold, what’s the quality which subscribers will receive and the allied customer care. There must be no parallel of such treatment to manufacturer of a product in any business sector in Pakistan.