Pemra’s role in regulating the electronic media

In a world influenced by satellite and cyber-space technology, electronic media has a highly significant role to play in shaping the life and destiny of nations. The visual media, notably television, has a stupendous, impact upon moulding human minds and opinion.
In the given scenario the electronic media has an onerous responsibility in addressing the socio-economic problems of societies and disseminating unbiased information. This responsibility can be effectively shouldered if the media treads the path of accuracy and objectivity in transmission of its programmes.
Since independence in 1947 the electronic media in Pakistan remained dominated by the state-run Pakistan Television and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporations. Pakistan Television was launched in November 1964 which switched over to colour transmission 12 years later.
As access to diverse sources of information was limited and people could not keep abreast with the rapidly growing developments around them it was decided by the govt opened up electronic media to the private sector in the country. Soon after, in March 2002, it was decided to set up Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) with a view to facilitate, licence and regulate the growth of electronic media in the private sector.
The Authority set up under an Ordinance has now been made a statutory corporate body with the passing of PEMRA Amendment Act 2007 by the Parliament. The task of regulating the electronic media in a multi ethnic society with diverse socio cultural norms is indeed a daunting one. PEMRA has been given the mandate to improve the standards of information, education and entertainment; to widen the choice available to the people for news, current affairs and other programmes; to facilitate the devolution of responsibility and to ensure transparency by optimising free flow of information.
To carryout its mandate effectively PEMRA has formulated rules, regulations, code of ethics for licensing and functioning of Satellite TV, Cable TV distribution, FM Radio and other electronic media technologies. The rules have been prepared in consultation with stake-holders and comparative study of international media regulatory practices. The Rules, Regulations and Codes have been formulated with the aim of safeguarding our national ideology, national heritage, socio-cultural norms, ensuring a level playing field to stake-holders, plurality and diversity and discouraging monopolistic trends.
All operational decisions including conferment of licenses to TV, Cable Operators, FM Radio etc are taken independently by the Authority comprising representatives of the public and government officials. Through frequent consultation with stakeholders and the public and open bidding it is ensured that the entire process of licensing is made absolutely transparent. Council of Complaints comprising representatives of the people have been set up at the Federal and Provincial capitals to redress public complaints against any violation of code of ethics by media broadcasters. The Councils are independent public forums with no govt intervention or role. Their performance has been excellent.
In a short span of five years the country has witnessed a massive spurt in the number of TV channels and FM Radio stations in the private sector which is, unmatched in the South
Asian region and perhaps elsewhere. This boom is owed to the government’s unequivocal commitment to a free media and the proactive role played by PEMRA in facilitating the growth of the electronic media. The unprecedented growth of TV channels, Cable TV and launch of FM Radio stations has indeed contributed remarkably in raising the standards of public awareness and literacy. A glance at the following facts and figures on licensing of media amply substantiates the massive growth which has taken place in electronic media in the private sector in the last 3/4 years.
i. Satellite TV Channels 67
ii. Landing Rights Permission
to TV Channels. 29
iii.FM Radio licenses. 116
iv. Cable TV Distribution
Operations 2168
v. Multimedia, Multi Channels
Distribution System (MMDS) 6
vi. Internet Protocol Television
(IPTV) 2
vii. Mobile TV licence 2
Today these Pakistani Satellite TV channels are providing a wide variety of programmes in Urdu (national language) and English including news, entertainment and sports programmes. In talk shows and panel discussions the channels air programmes which portray candid opinion of all segments of society including criticism of the establishment. Popular channels include GEO TV, ARY TV, DAWN News, AAJ, Express, Waqt, Channel-5, KTN, Indus, Khyber TV, Sindh TV, TV-1, APNA TV. Around a score applications are under process.
Landing rights permission have been given to 29 channels operating from abroad. These include BBC, CNN, Sky News, HBO, Cartoon Network, Ten Sports, ESPN, Fox News, Al Jazeera, Star Channels. In addition applications from a large number of foreign TV channels for landing rights permission are being processed.
A total of 116 FM Radio licenses have been given for entertainment and educational purposes in five phases through open and transparent bidding. Of these, 93 FM Radio stations are already on the air in all corners of the country. Mainly these stations broadcast programmes on topics of interest to the community residing within the reach of the station such as education, health, civic hygiene and economic matters.
The stations are operating in big and small cities and towns including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Mardan, Gawadar, and Nawabshah. After the earthquake 8 gratis licences were issued on priority basis which went into operation within 10 days of the tragedy. With no communications left in the wake of the disaster, these stations served as a communication network in the affected areas for providing information advice, social services and also entertainment.
The FM Radio licenses include non-commercial licenses given to leading Universities teaching Mass Communication. The underlying idea is to promote the development of skilled personnel and journalists for employment in the electronic media industry. The Universities include University of the Punjab, University of Peshawar, National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, Lahore College for Women University, Karachi University, Gomal University D.I. Khan, Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, Rawalpindi, Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad.
The next phase of FM Radio licensing is aimed at setting up stations at each district of the country by the end of year ie 2008. After fulfilling constitutional and legal formalities, PEMRA’s jurisdiction has been extended to Azad Jammu and Kashmir where six FM Radio licenses have been given. The stations are operating at Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Rawalakot, Dhirkot, Bhimber.
Six licenses have been issued for Multimedia Multi Channel Distribution System (MMDS). This system is a state of the art wireless distribution system that enables distribution of upto 60 Satellite TV channels. Licenses have been given for Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi.
Two Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) licenses have been given to mainstream companies which could help bring about a qualitative change in the distribution system. Pakistan is proud to be the sixth country to adopt this technology in the Asia Pacific region. Besides, two licenses for Mobile TV distribution have been given to companies on a trial basis.
Due to the government’s investment friendly policies the country has witnessed a remarkable economic growth particularly over the last five years. This overall national growth has been conducive for the development of the electronic media industry in the private sector. According to estimates there has been a cumulative investment of approximately U.S. dollar one and half billion in the electronic media industry. New jobs to more-than 150,000 people of diversified skills and qualifications have been provided. In addition, over 7 million people have been accommodated through indirect employment.
With he current growth rate of more than seven percent per annum, it is estimated that the cumulative investment in the electronic media industry will reach nearly U.S. dollar two billion by the end of the current financial year in June, 2008. This expansion in investment would in turn have a multiplier effect on increasing job opportunities for skilled media personnel and journalists, expanding work of media production houses, advertising agencies and proliferation of the performing arts.
Lifting of cross media restrictions in the PEMRA Act 2007 coupled with the government’s commitment to a free media, the electronic media is likely to grow at a much faster pace than before in the days to come. This in turn will help develop various segments of the media industry. To ensure a level playing field, restrain monopolistic trends and provide equal opportunities to all stakeholders associated with the electronic media industry, appropriate codes of conduct will need to be adopted.
On its part, PEMRA is endeavouring to ensure Self-Regulation by media. Technological advancements have given rise to issues of convergence. These are being addressed by the media regulatory authority in consultation with the telecommunication regulatory authority. To realise the targets of UN Millennium Development Goals, a switch over from the analog to the digital system in TV and Radio operations is being made. State of the art digital head ends will replace the existing anomalous distribution medium.
Even though at a nascent stage, the Pakistan electronic media has succeeded in evolving a culture of harmony, facilitation and conducive environment for investment in the media sector. Tariffs have been rationalised in order to encourage growth of private.
Electronic media within the country as compared to the earlier situation where it was cheaper and convenient to uplink from abroad. As a result 19 Media houses have shifted back to Pakistan and many more are planning to come back. The licence fee and News Gathering uplinking permission fee has been rationalised. Coupled with this, all unnecessary procedures have been cut down and clear time lines laid down.
In fact, this is the primary reason why Pakistan is today singled out in the Region for exemplary growth of media. In fact it would not be an over statement that electronic media is probably one sector where “One Window Operation” facility actually exists. However, certain fundamental principles and parameters have been evolved through a consultative process with the stakeholders. No decision is taken without getting inputs from the stakeholders. In fact recently the stakeholders have produced a Voluntary Code of Conduct which is a clear manifestation to PEMRA’s positive policies and belief in Self-Regulation.
The performance of PEMRA has not only been acclaimed by local stakeholders and viewers, it has also been acknowledged all over the world. If PEMRA can sustain its performance of the past 2 years, there is nothing which can stop it from becoming the leading Regulator and Facilitator in the region.
Source. Business Recorder

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