THE Cabinet Committee on State-Owned Enterprises has decided to remove Pakistan Television from the list of organisations proposed to be privatised. This decision was based on a request from the Ministry of Information whose representative argued that PTV was in the process of being restructured and revamped so it can become financially viable and efficient in order to amplify the national narrative. The decision not to privatise the organisation may be a good one but the problem with PTV is much larger. The fundamental issue is the government’s inability to comprehend the actual role of a taxpayer-funded channel. In Pakistan, we continue to call PTV the ‘state broadcaster’ whose primary role is to serve the government of the day. This is wrong. In a democracy, a channel funded by the taxpayer is envisioned as a ‘public broadcaster’ whose mandate is to generate wholesome and credible content aimed at informing, educating and entertaining viewers in a way that they become better and more empowered citizens of the state. A public broadcaster is not supposed to be a mouthpiece for the government of the day spewing crude propaganda, substandard news and information devoid of credibility and authenticity. Sadly, this is what PTV is doing today.

There is only one way to reform this white elephant. It must be taken away from the clutches of the information ministry and the governing board beholden to the government, and handed over to an independent and professional management that can run it without any official pressure. There are various examples in the world where countries have converted their decaying state media organisations into vibrant public broadcasters, so if the PTI government has the vision, courage and foresight to make the decision, implementing it will not be a very difficult task. PTV in its present form is a burden that the Pakistani taxpayer must not have to carry. If it is not reformed it will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2021

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