PERHAPS the best way to describe Radio Pakistan is to say that it is a giant in decline. Once the indispensable companion of most people through the day, it has for years now been more or less irrelevant to large sections of the population and a drain on the state’s coffers.
The subsidy runs into the billions — though it generated Rs344m in 2013-14, the scale of expenses was such that the government had to provide a subsidy of Rs3.7bn. An effort was made some time ago to find a solution to this state of perma-crisis, with the Public Accounts Committee advising in 2012-13 that the entity chalk out a new business plan. In line with this, on Wednesday, the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation proposed that an electronic cess be levied on the purchase of high-end mobile phones and on the registration of vehicles that could go towards covering the Rs4bn deficit Radio Pakistan runs into each year.
Such a move may help, but it seems that those at the helm of affairs have not really understood what underpins the problems of Radio Pakistan — or the latter’s huge untapped potential. In terms of entertainment and other non-news programming, the task for a public-sector media enterprise such as this is to carry programming that is in the public interest, such as infotainment and educational content, and that which is being sidelined because it does not draw advertising revenue — for example, it could provide a platform to classical and folk musicians. Such media platforms are the world over subsidised by taxpayers’ money, because this is where media content that is delinked from commercial concerns can be broadcast. On the news side, Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television have since their inception been used as propaganda-disseminating government mouthpieces. This needs to end, with news programming being given parliamentary oversight instead so that more independent editorial policies can be adopted. Between them, these two entities have tremendous reach across the country — and the state needs to make them count.
Published in Dawn March 1st , 2015