IF the intent was to engender even less goodwill among the public towards it the PTV may have certainly succeeded, but in all other respects its plan to raise its revenue by increasing the TV licence fee included in our electricity bills is doomed from the outset. It is telling of the mindset of those in charge of the public broadcaster that their singular concern is bridging the financial shortfall — amounting to Rs20bn a year — by passing the buck on to cash-strapped consumers, who have already experienced an eye-watering increase in power tariffs over the past 18 months. On the other hand, the only cost-cutting measure the PTV appears to have taken is to reduce the age of retirement for employees, thus saving approximately Rs18m a year. Proposing a bailout for itself without any financial plan or business development strategy that might justify the additional cost to consumers betrays just how much the PTV takes the public for granted — as well as its current lack of coherence and vision.
The PTV of today is a far cry from its golden days under the pioneering stewardship of Aslam Azhar, when the content it produced was a matter of pride for all Pakistanis. The public broadcaster was a vanguard in supporting public interest journalism, culture and the arts. Nowadays, instead of being a public service for the people, it has become, at best, an irrelevant and antiquated behemoth and, at worst, a political tool for the government of the day. The PTI’s 2018 election manifesto pledged to make the PTV autonomous, with its own board of governors, “similar to the BBC model” — a claim that was often repeated by its government’s first information minister. It is clear, however, that the change that was promised is nowhere in sight. Unless there is considerable restructuring of the corporation, including ensuring a completely independent and autonomous board, with a mission to deliver high-quality public interest programming, it is hardly worth justifying its existence let alone a licence fee hike.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2020