PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has nominated lawyer Naeem Bukhari as chairman of the state-run broadcaster PTV. Even before taking charge of his new office, Mr Bukhari, himself a television personality, told reporters PTV will not provide any coverage to the opposition because it is meant to project the government. In a video statement issued recently, he reiterated that the main purpose of PTV was to project the government. Mr Bukhari is wrong. But unfortunately, he is not the only one who has misplaced notions about the role of a state broadcaster. The PTI is the latest in a long line of ruling parties that have harped on reforming PTV when in opposition and then rubbishing such pious intentions once in power. If PTV today is a white elephant struggling for relevance in a swiftly transforming media environment, it is due to the myopic vision and faulty understanding of those who have the responsibility of overseeing the official media thrust upon them. However, in the present case it is indeed the prime minister himself who shares the bulk of the burden. His party’s manifesto boasted about reforming PTV when it came to power, and Mr Khan is on record as having said the same thing when in opposition. From those noble intentions to Mr Bukhari’s cavalier utterances — the PTI has indeed come a long way.
It is also the wrong way. The modern world has no place for archaic organisations like a state broadcaster generating no other content than stale and crude government propaganda. Instead, what holds value is what is called a ‘public broadcaster’. Prime examples of taxpayer-funded public broadcasters are Britain’s BBC, Canada’s CBC and America’s NPR. A public broadcaster caters primarily to the needs of the citizens, not of the government. Unshackled from the confines of commercially driven content, it carries the mandate to produce high-quality, credible and trustworthy content that adds value to the lives of citizens. A public broadcaster enriches democracy by providing people responsible and ethical news that reinforces social and cultural values while ensuring that viewers are not deprived of authentic information they require as citizens of a democratic state. Very few among our political parties seem to have a nuanced understanding of a public broadcaster’s role. This is why Pakistanis are forced to carry the burden of PTV and endure the rigours of official propaganda spewed forth with relish by unqualified people like Mr Bukhari.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2020