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Old Wednesday, June 07, 2006
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Default An Overview of PEMRA

An Overview


Formative period

Even ordinarily, the formative period in the life of a new organization are testing times. Systems have to be evolved, tried, refined and firmed up to meet its ends. A pool of managerial, professional and technical skills has to be raised, groomed and adapted to its needs and requirements. Financial hiccups have to be overcome and controls put in place to keep a check on spending and ensure legitimate use of money.

This period is all the more intricate and difficult when it comes to an organization established in a field hitherto nationally unexplored. There are no readymade homegrown models to draw upon. Alien models do not help. Embedded in their own milieus, they reflect values and demands of their own peoples. Hence, the new organization has to work in a complete void. Virtually, it has to start from scratch in every manner.

It was in this predicament that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) faced up to this formative period in its life. It was for the first time that Pakistan was launching private enterprise in the field of electronic media. Regulating private ventures in the domain was thus an entirely new experience. The complexity of the task was further complicated by the very intrinsic sensitivity of the field, involving delicate issues requiring careful handling.

But with the grace of Allah (Subhanhu-wa-Taala), the Authority has successfully overcome the trials and tribulations of the formative period and is now well poised for a smooth run. The experiences gained during this time have helped to transform it into a sound and robust media-friendly and public-oriented organization.

Requisite legal instruments have been framed. Required regulatory regime is in place. Necessary administrative and professional manpower is in position. Essential systems and mechanisms are operational. Financial checks and controls have been built. And the Authority is now fully in business.

The year 2002-03 was indeed an exciting time for the Authority. A widespread interest was discernible in the private sector to have a go on the newfound field of enterprise. Of course, it's unthinkable to think of private venture without profit motive. And profit considerations should be acceptable unless they threaten to degenerate into rank commercialism.




Operational strategy



Notably, the Authority has no overriding preferences in the promotion of electronic media in the private sector. Its principal impulsion is to stimulate and facilitate in every manner the spawning and growth of a powerful private electronic media apparatus, which is competitive both nationally and internationally. Its only preference, if at all it could be so termed, is that this apparatus should be a potent catalyst for national cohesion, sectarian harmony, societal moderation, mutual tolerance and the nation's advancement at home and a powerful image-builder of Pakistan abroad.

Likewise, the Authority has soft corner for no particular medium to develop. It views the whole range of electronic media as a field worth private enterprise. And in no manner does it feel uncomfortable with the popular interest in mega media projects. That in fact holds up the pleasing prospect of elevating Pakistan to the ranks of global media players.

But the Authority was enthused to discern a large measure of interest in FM radio broadcasting. No less gratifying for the Authority was an evident eagerness of some educational institutions to utilize the field's openness for their academic pursuits. Even in advanced countries, institutions of higher learning have been employing the electronic media on a large scale for classroom teaching and diverse other educational purposes. And in many a developing polity, they have emerged as popular tools for mass literacy drives.

The interest put on display in the electronic media by a clutch of our universities for enhancing their academic pursuits has spurred the Authority's confidence that in time the field will catch as much fancy of the academia as of the entrepreneurial class. And nothing would please the Authority as much if private players do come forward to launch non-profit, non-commercial media enterprises to spread literacy in the country where more than half of our people are illiterate.



FM Radios



Sensing a mounting interest in radio broadcasting in the private sector and for educational channels on the campuses, the Authority decided to open its year's book with licences for FM radio stations. An operational plan was devised, a clearly-defined criterion for assessing the suitability of aspirants for licence was put in place, benchmarks for processing the applications were fixed, and a foolproof, open and transparent bidding procedure was laid out.

The Authority was heartened by the enthusiastic response that its calls for bids drew. And by the end of the year, it had handed over as many as 29 licences for FM radio stations. Quite delightfully, among the licensees were the country's three top ranking universities: the Punjab University, the Peshawar University and the International Islamic University of Islamabad.

More remarkably, the bidders for the stations were by and large serious players. In most cases, they were worthy parties, all with one merit or the other about them. But when it comes to competition, it naturally has to be a contest between the fittest of the fit. Pruning and short-listing of aspirants according to prescribed criteria and benchmarks becomes inevitable and indispensable.

Though the response to its bid calls for electronic media stations was impressive, the Authority all through assiduously resisted the temptation of a rash rush. Caution and gradualism have been its watchwords throughout. Arguably, high leaps often end up in headlong falls. Modest starts with steady pace culminate in successes, not infrequently spectacular.

In keeping with its cautious approach and policy of moving up step-by-step, the Authority used the first phase of its licensing operation for FM radio stations to cater to the scramble for licences in metropolises and principal towns. They had the requisite capital, talent and infrastructure readily available in them. It made for a realistic and pragmatic sense to exhaust maximally the craze for owning FM stations in big cities so that the entrepreneurial interest could switch over to smaller cities and towns. The real fun indeed is to let them have their own FM radio stations.

Now that the prescribed slots for big urban centres have largely been occupied, smaller cities and towns are expected to catch the eye of the prospective media investors. And in the second phase of the Authority's licensing operation for FM radio stations, which has been launched, they are most likely to attract interested parties for establishing broadcast stations there.



Satellite TV



Having said that, one must confess that it is the national Satellite TV stations that hold the real potential of developing into global players, too, with worldwide reach and audience, to a nation's great honour and prestige. Motivated serious players are needed to raise viable media networks of national and provincial import. That clearly involves an intrusive process of sifting grain from the bran.

Accordingly, the Authority decided to start with the process to award satellite television broadcast station licences to Pakistani companies incorporated under the Companies Ordinance, 1984, and laid out an elaborate procedure of processing and scrutiny of the applications.

The 10 aspirants who formally applied for setting up satellite TV stations in response to the Authority's public notice were subjected to the prescribed criterion and scrutiny. Only seven could come up to the fixed benchmarks. The Virtual University, Lahore, was the first to get licence to operate two educational satellite TV channels from Pakistan. The issuance of licence to the other six applicants was in advanced stage of finalization as the year closed.



Cable TV



Interestingly, cable TV is the largest and fastest-growing medium among the country's electronic media. Some 7.28 billion rupees, it is estimated, have already been pumped into the sector. And the investment is believed to be growing at the phenomenal rate of 132 percent annually. While the sector is employing some 30,000 people, cable TV is estimated to have already entered some four million homes.

In the days ahead, cable TV's spread is bound to grow still larger along with its infrastructure, business, workforce and clientele. Almost all the world TV networks have switched over to decoder, an expensive gadgetry not within the means of the bulk of people. But with just a paltry sum, they can access them all through the agency of cable TV. And this is what the people are doing increasingly in Pakistan, as elsewhere in the world.

The national cable TV sector is indeed set to prosper because of the Authority's two landmark decisions. One is to allow exceedingly low licence rates, almost 70 percent less than the normal, for establishing cable TV stations in the rural areas. The country folks who make up the 70 percent of our people understandably cannot be left out from availing of the latest media technologies for entertainment, information and education. They must have as much media access and choices as have their urban cousins. And since the private enterprise is not sufficiently motivated to set shop in remoter areas, some incentives were needed to draw it in there. Hence, this decision.

The other is to bring home the Multi-channel Multi-point Distribution System (MMDS) as part of the Authority's charter to introduce the latest in media technologies to the country. For its pluses in bandwidth utilization, data transmission, signals quality and distribution spectrum, this most advanced system in digital technology is currently making waves the world over.

With its capability to distribute 60 digital channels, the MMDS was a natural choice for the Authority to bring home, to the people's benefit. The process has been set in motion for the establishment of the MMDS stations by private entrepreneurs in the country. Some 18 companies have successfully bid for setting up 24 stations in different cities. This new venture is sure to open up yet another avenue to the private cable sector to flourish.

But the CTV sector, sadly, remains problematic. Not infrequently professionalism, ethics and morality are seen here being beheaded nonchalantly at the chopping block of stark business interests. The public outcry never subsides over the cable operators' quality of service and the programme brew they serve to the subscribers. It only rages.

Of course, it isn't right to put all the dirty eggs in the cable operators' basket. Nor is it fair to put them in the dock for every act of omission and commission. At least in the choice of channels for viewing, the subscribers can themselves be more prudent and selective.

Nevertheless, it is the operators' primary responsibility to give them satisfactory quality service. Indeed, going by the public complaints that the Authority receives formally and informally, it's the quality of service that draws them flak even severer than what they get on the score of pornography and obscenity. So much so, out of the 1004 written complaints that the Authority received during the year, 640 related to the quality of service as against 263 that related to obscenity.

The situation on the cable TV's front is disquieting, no doubt. But it isn't irredeemable, either. In fact, the repair process seems to have already begun. The indications are too compelling. As for instance, the cable operators issued licences by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, which was handling this job before the PEMRA's advent, were found evasive in having them renewed. But they have evidently begun shedding off their initial reluctance and are now increasingly coming forward to get them renewed, presumably for the advantages that accrue in terms of protections, safeguards and security from being a PEMRA family's member. Nearly half of them had done it by the year's end. The rest were expected to follow suit.

The Authority has set up a slew of systems and mechanisms, all having full legal backup, to put order to the as-yet somewhat chaotic cable TV sector. With the establishment of its fully functional regional offices, armed with inspection teams, and the Councils of Complaints, plus its own paraphernalia at the head office, the Authority has acquired a sizeable muscle to exact compliance from cable operators to its regulatory regime and the code of ethics, flush out those operating illegally, collect its dues and recover arrears from them.

Nonetheless, the Authority's preferred instrument still remains the language of persuasion than the stick of law. It is the Authority's firm conviction that persuasion works well to keep the people on the right track and impel the erring to mend their ways. The stick, at times, creates problems where none exist, unnecessarily precipitates avoidable tensions and conflicts, and even throws up undesirable crises.

The Authority has sought to involve the community intimately, actively and in an organized manner in its vigilance of the cable TV sector. Worth particular mention is the creation of a countrywide PEMRA Friends club, composed of public-spirited people, educationists, social workers, journalists, local opinion leaders, and retired judges and civil and military officers. They volunteered to get drafted in the campaign in response to the Authority's public call. Some 102 of them are already in position in various cities. They monitor the cable operations in their neighbourhoods for quality of service and channels and programmes being put out and report to the Authority.

There is nothing unusual about this kind of voluntary system of monitoring. It is in vogue in many a country, not just in the media field but in diverse other domains. In fact, some states have found business rivalries and jealousies as a great revealer of the errant, the deviant and the evader. In our case, the induction of volunteers in the monitoring of cable TV networks was far more compelling due to their expanse. They spread out all over the country, a span that understandably is impossible to scan by the Authority all alone. It is too big for its own enforcement staff to monitor, and will remain so. Rather, this deficiency is bound to increase in view of the magnitude and speed with which the cable TV is expanding in the country. And consequently more voluntary inductions for monitoring activity would be required by the Authority.

All said and told, the mechanisms and systems instituted by the Authority to keep an eye on cable operations are demonstrably working and paying off. Yet, it would be unrealistic to assume there would be ever no errors or erratic behaviours. Speaking realistically, in spite of all its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms of the Authority, wrongs will be committed because that is how the human nature works. But what is important is to note that there is a perceptible turnaround in the situation. And there is a definite positive change in the cable operator community's own outlook and thinking. And it would not be wrong to say that in times ahead the abiders will be far more than the offenders.



Human Resource



For its working, the Authority has consciously adopted the corporate culture. The objective is to make for effective dispersal of delegation of powers, quicker decisions, hassles-free procedures, free flow of ideas and encouragement of talent. One hallmark of this prudent, pragmatic and realistic administration policy is that it abhors profligacy and adores frugality. The guiding principle of the policy is to create where unavoidably indispensable and recruit where absolutely essential.

In line with this policy, it created during the year an enforcement wing, a legal wing, an IT wing, an engineering wing and a public relations wing as was essential to its functions and duties.

And since it is the human resource of an organization that makes the difference, merit and transparency are the two inviolable principles of its recruitment policy. As they say in the military parlance, it is not the gun but the man behind the gun who matters, the Authority is very choosy in the selection for its manpower.

In the case of direct recruitment, it advertises the posts repeatedly, puts the candidates to written tests and interviews, and selects the best possible. In once case when the number of candidates (for the posts of Assistant General Managers and supervisors) was very large, the Authority hired the services of experienced and respected Institute of Cost Management and Accounts Pakistan (ICMAP) to conduct the examination and select the best.

To get the best is always its wish. The same urge informs its requisition of experienced officers and staff from the government departments.

More importantly, in no event the Authority wants to accumulate even an ounce of fat. Its present establishment strength, including regional offices, stands at 101. The Authority wants to keep the strength taped at that as far as practically possible.



Finances



Just as in administration, economy conforms the Authority's financial policy. To spend only where it is unavoidable and conserve money wherever practically possible are the two pillars of its financial policy. And it is paying off well.

The Government had given it only some seed money to set shop. For the rest, it was to fend for itself. It was to generate its own funds and raise its own revenues for its upkeep. By following a tight financial policy, the Authority is now not only self-sustaining and self-sufficient financially but it is also in surplus.

Just as it had showed a net saving after the first three months of its infancy, so has it at this year's end. The Authority had budgeted Rs. 99.997 million for the year's expenditure. But with tight checks and controls, it kept the actual spending contained at Rs. 70.320 million, thereby netting a net saving of Rs. 29.676 million.

Similarly, it had fixed the year's revenue targets at Rs. 100 million. But with concerted efforts for revenue generation and collection of dues and arrears, the Authority earned Rs. 111.540 million, thus exceeding the targets by 11.540 million.

All told, the Authority's finances are healthy and strong. The Government of Pakistan had authorised the Authority in its charter to obtain bank loans for its running. But with the blessings of Allah its financial health has been so buoyant that not even the thought of loan or subsidy had occurred to it.



Epilogue



In the year ending June, 2002, the Authority had prepared a plan of action for liberalizing the media. A copy of this plan is again included in this report. Out of this, two activities which required smaller capital were undertaken. One was the Cable TV licensing which was allowed on continuous basis and the other was the setting up of FM Radio stations in the country.

It may be mentioned that the number of radio stations in Pakistan is very small. Full coverage is not available to the 100% residents. Moreover the burden of coverage was placed almost entirely on the national broadcasters, namely Radio Pakistan, except for Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad where one private station each also operates. A house study was carried out to determine the need of the radio stations in the country including their viability. A comparison was also made with other countries in the developing world. A copy of the study is placed in the report.

For the Authority, the year 2002-03 was decidedly eventful. But it was also a great learning time for it. Some of its systems and mechanisms practically proved their worth. Some others were found wanting here and there. Those that worked well would be solidified. Those that could not perform according to expectations would be suitably amended to make them efficacious. The weak spots have been identified. Ideas are being explored, debated and crystallized to remove the lacunas. Possibly, some amendments may have to be proposed to the PEMRA Ordinance 2002.

Whatever it takes, the Authority must become an effective institution in every manner. It deals with a domain that holds a strategic import in the prevalent global conditions. Wars are now being fought in the minds. And media, the electronic in particular, have become the weapons of that war. The Authority is determined to give all props to the electronic media in the private sector to fight for the share of minds successfully, both at the national and international levels. Only the private enterprise has to show the intent, will and grit to become that potent weapon. It would not find the Authority wanting on that score in any event.

Last edited by prieti; Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 02:22 AM. Reason: A thread with a similar title already exists!
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