It was during a weeklong management workshop in 2009 at a 16th century castle and now a hotel overlooking the Liverpool Bay. Workshop participants’ dietary requirements were asked in advance and graciously catered for.
Our Liverpudlian servers, mostly girls, would walk to our designated tables with specially prepared meals, asking for the three ‘halal gentlemen.’ Explaining to our hosts the difference between a halal chicken and a gentleman was an interesting experience, to say the least. And a cause of much banter!
Halal gentlemen and chicken are worlds apart in the most comical of comparisons. In a mocking twist of fate, these latest bills are another affirmation that we may have gotten our chickens and men mixed up. I also eat my humble pie here by admitting that only a few weeks ago, I thought that data protection bill wouldn’t see the light of day during this government’s term. It was too much to expect!
The PEMRA amendment bill, the one that has raised the most political noise amongst the three, gives the PTV and PBC protection against the very definitions it puts forward on disinformation and misinformation.
In the gist of these new bills, our political masters are still obsessed with and adamant at controlling what people hear and see. We now have a newly coined definition of ‘disinformation’, with a Pakistani twist. Soon, we will have good and bad propaganda. Just like we had the good and bad Taliban once.
The PEMRA amendment bill, the one that has raised the most political noise amongst the three, gives the PTV and PBC protection against the very definitions it puts forward on disinformation and misinformation. Thus, the stories of milk and honey in favor of any ruling political party and the attacks on opponents will continue unabated on PTV and state radio, paid by the patriotic but unwilling taxpayer.
The Bill is also meant to give commercial protection to broadcasters. No businessman likes our kind of political uncertainty and for this long. Now Chairman PEMRA cannot singlehandedly shutdown TV channels. These decisions were almost always politically motivated and quickly set aside by the High Courts anyway. Good riddance of a power that really wasn’t!
Once the Senate passes it, the Bill will also resolve the long-standing hurdles of GAAR and TV channel license renewal fee for broadcasters. Now they can get government ads without worrying for the monies they owe it. In an election year, this is only a small political price for keeping powerful media players on your side.
But capping the TV license renewal fee is also a sad admission of our failure to grow our market. Commercial arithmetic of this choice is heavily in favor of broadcasters and at the cost of government and other media segments. The bill has conveniently forgotten distributors when it chose to put in new seat for PBA and PFUJ on PEMRA authority. Distributors are essentially the lynchpin of our regulatory scheme, and whose dysfunction is holding back our market’s true potential.
Most alarming of changes in the bill is the removal of the need for an individual determination of any member on authority decisions. We have had this fascination of including provincial governments in technical regulation like PEMRA and national cloud policies. Sadly, what is good for the goose is not good enough for the gander in our politics and policymaking.
While the broadcasters maybe the ultimate winners, electronic media journalists and TV anchors are already feeling the most heat from this bill. They will now be subject to PEMRA’s determinations on content unlike before. TV channels will no longer pay the price for politically wayward misadventures of an anchor. In another country with properly functioning editorial boards, this would not be necessary at all. In ours, broadcasters’ loss will now be YouTube’s gain, and a different set of regulatory challenges of online content regulation.
Most alarming of changes in the bill is the removal of the need for an individual determination of any member on authority decisions. We have had this fascination of including provincial governments in technical regulation like PEMRA and national cloud policies. Sadly, what is good for the goose is not good enough for the gander in our politics and policymaking. Efficacy of these provincial nominees is already an enigma, and media regulation is about to get even murkier with this change. One wonders what happened to the policy leaders’ ideals of leaving rich legacies with your pen?
Poignantly, it was PML-N that gave us PECA in 2016. The latest draft on data protection and e-safety holds the proverbial gun to the heads of online players in exchange for our business. It hasn’t worked before. It is still a misplaced rather an absurd notion to expect significant compliance or cooperation from global internet players when the government has recently expanded law enforcement agencies’ unfettered access to our lives. If our future relationship with these global players is going to have the same legal impediments and differences of views, then the FIA and PTA are already doing an excellent job. Why waste money on a new regulator?
The real issue in all these is a simple one and the basis of this piece’s title. It’s our misplaced priorities that affect the larger commercial and social opportunities in media and Internet driven businesses. Now, they may create inadvertent hindrances in bringing new investments under the SIFC umbrella. The media is not on SIFC’s agenda, yet, but this needs a rethink too.
People are looking towards the more permanent and powerful member that is, Army and its leadership, for what SIFC does and achieve, both in their memes and seriousness. Therefore, SIFC should also been seen as a critical opportunity to rebuild the image and bridges between the people and their Army. And it must not fail us.
SIFC must see these bills as pragmatic commercial issues that can potentially stall the goal of economic prosperity. It also must open a discussion and engage with all local and foreign stakeholders to create a single commercial vision for our media and technology market. It is also time to do away with the historic policy disenfranchisement and fragmentation particularly in media.
And before some of you put any labels on me, it was your politicians who cut the ribbons to larger and formal political role for Army in both investments management and governance. I just want it to work for the sake of all of us!