ISLAMABAD: Pakistani media, which is facing an undeclared and invisible but worst of its kind censorship, received a severe blow from the government, which may prove a death knell for the crisis-hit industry.
The media industry is facing the worst crisis of its history, which is multi-faceted and threatening the very existence of the independent media.
In the latest blow to the crisis-hit media industry, the government revised the public sector advertisements’ rates downward. The government has placed a drastic cut, in some cases over 1000 per cent, on the government’s advertisements/ campaigns’ rates for TV channels, which may prove to be the last nail in the coffin of independent media.
The slowdown in economic activities and the financial crisis, the country is currently faced with, have a direct and adverse impact on the media industry. This has greatly impacted the advertisements’ revenue of the media, which is the lifeline for the industry.
The financial crisis of media industry was aggravated by the PTI-led government and the powers that be who wanted a muted, pliant and easy to mould press and media in the country for maintaining their grip on power.
The power centres in the country have greatly achieved this objective but it seems they are not content with what they have done and are hell-bent to completely muzzle the media.
The PTI government, which came to power with overwhelming support extended by media and other power centres in the country, have taken a number of steps which have worsened the crisis the media is faced with.
The government stopped outstanding dues the government owed to media houses under the heads of government advertisements and media campaigns. As per media owners, the dues were worth about Rs10 billion. However, the government released a portion of the dues to media following lengthy negotiations and intervention of Director General Inter-Services Public Relations Major General Asif Ghafoor.
In the latest move, the Information Ministry has cut the rates of government’s advertisements and campaigns for private TV channels. It has cut down the rates by ranging from 300 per cent to over 1000 per cent.
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has sent a letter to the chairman, Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), intimating him about the revised advertisements’ rates.
The letter states:” On numerous occasion, both formally and informally, this Ministry has raised its concerns over the unfair and exorbitant rates being charged by the private Television Channels for airing government/public sector advertisements/campaigns.
It would be pertinent to mention here that the Finance Division has raised serious objections to the rates being charged by the TV channels.
Despite repeated reminders, meetings and discussion no concrete movement has been made in the matter which is adversely impacting the media industry.
The present government intends to support the electronic media industry and initiate electronic media campaigns. This cannot be done on the existing rates.
In view of the above, the government after due deliberation and considering the commercial rates charged by private TV channel has evaluated the news rates which are fair and reasonable for the release of public sector advertisements/campaigns in the public interest.
We are also intimating the concerned channels about the new rates separately. The new rates will be effective, if we do not hear any further, with effect from December 27, 2018 and valid for all Federal and Provincial Government/Autonomous Bodies/Public Sector Organization.”
Though the Ministry in the above-mentioned letter says the government intend to support the media, but in reality, the letter is a death warrant for independent media.
Pakistan Broadcasters Association’s Response
The PBA in its response to the letter termed it as shocking. The PBA described the Information Ministry’s move to revise downward the rates of government advertisements/campaigns as shocking.
In response to Secretary Information Shafqat Jalil’s letter to PBA, its chairman wrote:” We are in receipt of your letter dated 20/12/2018 in which you have unilaterally fixed rates of private TV channels.
Please allow me to state some fact:
On December 14th you wrote a letter to PBA, asking us to discuss amongst the PBA Board Members the issue of government rates. We received your letter on 20/12/2018. Immediately in response to which a board meeting was summoned with a single point agenda to discuss the government advertisements’ rates, copy attached.
It is shocking however that without waiting for our response and discussing the matter with PBA, which was proposed by yourself, you unilaterally decided to fix the rates. We had already, as a body, in support of Prime Minister’s drive for austerity opened the discussion within our ranks agreeing to bring about some reduction in the prevailing rates.
We would also like to point out that amongst the list of channels sent by you, PTV News has not been included which is a point of concern for us. We request you to please stop implementation of these rares within immediate effect till the time our discussions are not concluded.
We look forward to meeting you on Wednesday, December 26, 2018, to take this matter forward.”
In recent days a number of media outlets have seized their operations, rendering hundreds of journalists jobless. Working journalists are the worst-hit by the current crisis. Jang Groups closed its three newspapers (Eveningers) and also shut down Jang’s Peshawar and Faisalabad editions, effectively making over 700 journalists and media workers jobless.
Naway-e-Waqt Group closed its TV channel Waqt News citing a financial crisis. Express Group has laid off a large number of journalists and workers from the publications of the Group such as daily Express, Express Tribune and its channel Express TV. Similarly, Dunya TV, Geo New, Neo TV and other media outlets have fired workers, besides cutting salaries by up to 35 per cent.
Recently, many independent-minded anchorpersons and senior journalists, who are known government and establishment’s critics, have lost their jobs. Those include Talat Hussain from Geo News, Nusrat Javed from Dawn News, Matiuallah Jan from Waqt TV and Murtaza Solangi from Capital TV.
The government critics see its hands in the lay-off, arguing that only its critics are losing their jobs in the ongoing layoff of top anchorpersons.