Why is acting chairman Pemra in such a hurry? | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Why is acting chairman Pemra in such a hurry?

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has written to Acting Chairman Pemra during last two months to stop the Direct to Home (DTH) satellite TV licence auction on December 7 and let it be decided by new Chairman Pemra Absar Alam.

However, Acting Chairman Pemra Kamaludin Tipu, a serving Police Officer who took over in May 2015, holds that Pemra authorised him on Aug 11 to proceed with auction of DTH licences. Federal Minister for Information Pervaiz Rashid has gone on record that an acting chairman shall handle day to day affairs as per law and Supreme Court judgments and leave long term policy matters to a permanent chairman Pemra.

Tipu is also undeterred by the fact that on August 19, 2015, a three member bench of Supreme Court headed by chief justice of Pakistan took strong exception to his functioning as acting chairman and directed federal government to appoint a full time chairman as per Pemra Ordinance within 30 days. Absar Alam has been notified as new chairman after due process in consequence of this decision.

Supreme Court directed so in a case in which it had already dismissed an acting chairman Pemra in December 2012 on ground that no such post exists in Pemra Ordinance and also struck off Content Regulations 2013 on ground that it was notified under an acting chairman.

Unfortunately Pemra has been governed by police officers for almost half the time since inception in 2002 and rest by bureaucrats. None of the appointees had “substantial experience in media” as required under Pemra Ordinance. Pemra has already failed to launch DTH service in Pakistan after a previous round of public bidding. Two ex-bidders are in Supreme Court against Pemra for denial of DTH licence from its previous public bidding.

Pemra retained their payments against licences fee for six years before cancelling their licence. The two bidders claim huge ambiguities in licence terms and conditions and retention of their licence fee till date as abuse of power by Pemra whereas Pemra contends that the licencees did not pay full licence fee.

Other than its legality, the bidding process undertaken by acting chairman has glaring anomalies which may not serve the media industry. Broadcasters who are biggest stakeholder in a DTH project as their product i.e. TV channels is to be distributed through a DTH service, are declared ineligible. There is no other example of such absolute omission and even in India broadcasters are eligible to participate in DTH projects under a certain ratio. In developed and developing world, broadcaster’s participation in DTH projects is left to market forces and there is no restriction in law.

Secondly, the base price for auction of DTH licence is kept at a very high level in present process which may make the service to subscribers very costly. This will defeat the very purpose of Pemra Ordinance which is to spread information, education and entertainment down to grass root and community level. The base price of DTH Licence in present process is in fact double the full value of a DTH Licence in India and after the public bidding it would be many times higher.

The number of DTH licences to be auctioned in present process is also on higher side. In India, the ratio of TV households to a DTH Licence is 25 million TV households to a DTH Licence. Pakistan only has 14 million TV households and at best for competition sake it can have 2 DTH licencees. Pemra bidding process calls for three licences. Already two parties are in Supreme Court against Pemra denial of their DTH licences from previous bidding and the outcome in these cases will also have an impact on total number of DTH operators.

Lastly, a very short time has been earmarked for the pre-qualification process in present round which ends started on Nov 9 and ends on Nov 27.

Keeping in view the deficiencies in the present licence offer and the litigation from previous bidding of Pemra DTH licences, litigation against acting chairman and the latest and earlier orders of Supreme Court against acting chairman, the Ministry of Information appears to take a correct stance in asking acting chairman to desist from public bidding of DTH Licences.

Supreme Court had struck off Content Regulations 2013 on ground that Authority is not properly constituted under an acting chairman as no provision of acting chairman exists in PEMRA ordinance. Acting chairman Pemra stance that authority gave it mandate to process new DTH Licences does not seem to hold in view of Supreme Court judgment. It is to be seen from record that while getting the approval from authority on Aug 11, the acting chairman briefed the authority about the legal status of his own position keeping in view Supreme Court judgments.

It may be mentioned that DTH is latest technology to deliver TV channels to home and is a competitor to Cable TV. A successful launch of DTH services would provide better quality of TV reception to subscriber homes and would help left standards of Cable TV service in Pakistan.

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