WHAT’S being aired on Pakistan’s television screens is in the news again, this time because of the Turkish soap operas that are being broadcast by some leading private television channels. They have been broadcast for several months now, and garnered a large and lucrative following. What’s changed, though, is the decision of certain private channels to start airing them during prime time broadcast hours. On Monday, the United Producers Association, which represents a large number of private television producers and production houses, held a press conference in Karachi to protest against this. On the same day, the issue was taken up by the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting and concern was expressed about this programming running contrary to local culture.
But this is to dangerously misinterpret the situation. As was highlighted by the UPA and the Senate committee itself was informed by PTV managing director Yousuf Beg Mirza, the problem is that with such content being run on prime time, the space for broadcasting locally-produced material is being restricted. Those against the broadcast of foreign content at peak viewing hours believe that it could seriously harm the local television production industry, which has grown rapidly since the country’s media policy was liberalised a little over a decade ago. Given the manner in which perceived threats to culture tend to provoke a violent, knee-jerk response in Pakistan, it is important not to confuse matters. The controversy over Turkish programming is about economics, and must be treated as such. The local industry’s concerns should be heard seriously and addressed, but the answer does not lie in restricting viewers’ choices. What the ministry of information needs to do is devise ways to provide incentives to and revitalise the local production industry, so that it is better able to compete with international standards. Other countries have created protectionist regulations without banning material; Pakistan needs to be able to do the same.