PEMRA & Public Service Broadcasting by Javed Jabbar.–Photo courtesy

KARACHI: “How can our cinema grow when we are addicted to seeing what we can for free? We’re lining the pockets of the pirates instead of artists and those investing in films,” said former minister, advertiser and rights activist Javed Jabbar while responding to a question from the audience on the first day of the International Conference on Film and Television (ICFT) on Monday.

“Pakistanis have become addicted to piracy, while no action has been taken on the legal front to enforce it,” Mr Jabbar said during a talk on ‘Public service broadcasting, the role of Pemra (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authortity) and the electronic media’.

“We as citizens have completely lost respect for the law and that has resulted in us adopting a very warped sense of ethics. Changing this will require a fundamental change in our society,” he added.

Earlier, he opened the talk by giving a brief but colourful background of how Pemra came into existence and his role in the introduction of privately-owned broadcast media in a non-discriminatory fashion.

In response to a question about accountability and lack of checks and balances that are enforced in the electronic media by Pemra, Mr Jabbar responded that there were two sides to this story and that Pemra couldn’t be held solely responsible. “The moment Pemra serves a notice on a television channel, the channel immediately rushes to get a stay order on that notice,” he explained.

He mentioned that at the moment there were over 72 cases pending in the high court with stay orders on them. “The judicial system also needs to work on this but at the moment their focus is elsewhere,” he added.

About the challenges of monitoring electronic content, he mentioned that one of the major mistakes made by Pemra was to allow cable network operators to run their own channels. “We officially have 87 registered channels,” he said, “but we have 15,000 de facto channels. A fundamental error by Pemra was to allow each cable network to operate four to five of their channels. They are not regulated and they are running pirated content. How can any regulatory body monitor 15,000 channels?”

Public service broadcasting Highlighting the need for public service broadcasting, Mr Jabbar outlined the two factors that differentiate it from other mainstream media. He said that it should be subject to any control, especially by the state, and free of commercial and profit-making interest.

He also outlined six potential sources of financing that included philanthropy. He cited the Indus Hospital and the Layton Rehmattulla Benevolent Trust (LRBT) as examples of initiatives that have been running on donations while doing a commendable job in serving mankind. Mr Jabbar added that other sources of financing included local and foreign grants, sponsorship by advertisers, user subscriptions, endowment funds etc.

Referring to the content, Mr Jabbar was of the opinion that the tone of public service broadcasts should not be adversarial. “I believe there is a lot of drama in good news. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, our media generally believes that only bad news has drama. This is something journalism all around the world suffers from,” he said.

He stressed that focus on the quality of content trumped the importance placed on ratings in a public service broadcast medium. Should a public service broadcast be limited to conventional channels? “Social media has opened up new channels,” said Mr Jabbar, adding that in this day age, conventional channels shouldn’t be necessary in a public service broadcast, but due to high poverty, “social media’s reach is very limited in Pakistan and it will take around ten to twenty years to change that.”

The conference was organised by South Asian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Television (Saampt).

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