PTV’s role

27 Jul 2020

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THE government has deferred a decision to increase the licence fee of PTV from Rs35 to Rs100 per month. While this is a sensible move for now, possibly under pressure from the public outcry, the decision to do so could be taken in the near future. PTV has been groaning under financial pressure for years and despite tall claims, no government has really been able to turn the organisation around. It is a sad fact that time and again the taxpayer has had to shoulder the burden of mismanagement and cronyism that have been part of PTV under successive governments. Increasing the licence fee today amounts to punishing the citizens for mistakes of the government.

Charging citizens a licence fee can be justified if the former get value for their money from a broadcaster. However for this to happen, a fundamental shift in the thinking of the Pakistani state has to take place with regard to PTV. Governments call PTV a ‘state broadcaster’. This is wrong. It is supposed to be a ‘public broadcaster’ because it is meant to serve the public and not be a mouthpiece for the state or government of the day. The failure to understand the role of a taxpayer-funded TV channel is the core reason why governments have failed to build PTV as a credible organisation producing content that is aimed at the public good. No government, unfortunately, has been able to break out of its myopia and grasp the enormous potential that lies hidden inside PTV. This potential can only be unleashed if it is transformed into a public broadcaster whose financially viability is subsumed in its core role of serving the public with content that puts citizens ahead of the advertiser. Every prime minister has expressed his or her desire to turn PTV into a ‘BBC model’ but none has had the breadth of vision to understand what this entails. As a consequence, PTV continues to be treated as a platform for crude, low-quality propaganda peddled by insecure governments and executed by bureaucrats and professionals who measure the value of public broadcasting through its balance sheets alone.

PTV has been a tragedy unfolding over the decades in slow motion. The PTI government at the centre, for all its tall rhetoric, has stooped to the same low level of thinking about PTV that was displayed by the PPP and PML-N governments. PTV today suffers not from a bankruptcy of revenue but a bankruptcy of vision. In an age of media transformation, PTV is fast becoming a dinosaur. The only thing that can save it is if someone can truly reimagine its ethos, role and potential for the years ahead. Throwing good money after bad — which is what the increase in licence fee amounts to — makes no sense. But then not much does when it comes to PTV.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2020