COMMUNICATION IN THE SATELLITE AGE
The aim of the
workshop was to identify issues of media policy in Pakistan and to
consider responses to the cultural and political problems posed by
the advance of global communications technology in south Asia.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Richard Hardwick welcomed everyone to the workshop and underlined the importance of the theme it was addressing. He said he had served in Bombay in the late 1980s before the satellite revolution and could vouch for the difference. It was not just within the countries of South Asia that change had been dramatic; South Asian culture was now being projected worldwide. Amitabh Bachchan had topped the BBC Millennium poll and Bollywood had become a world phenomenon.
thanked the British Council for providing the venue for the workshop
and the OUP for acting as co-hosts. The first phase of the Media South
Asia project had involved the writing of a book and the making of
a film, both of which had been launched the previous evening. The
second phase involved the holding of a number of workshops in different
parts of South Asia to promote debate on issues of public interest
and policy. He expressed his gratitude to all those who had agreed
to speak and hoped that the workshop on ‘ Culture and Communication’
in Pakistan would help to clarify the options for the future.
Culture and communication in the Satellite age
Aslam Azhar said that the change in the quality of broadcasting in Pakistan and in the region over the previous twenty years had become an important cultural issue. Twenty years earlier, in PTV, creative decisions were taken by creative people - by writers, producers and directors. What was produced was then offered to the advertisers. Now ‘ all creative decisions are taken by the advertiser’ - not the advertising agencies but the producers of commodities and services themselves. Aslam Azhar identified consumerism as ‘the most dangerous contemporary drug’. The global multimedia corporations were in the business of creating consumers and the advertisers were ‘ the catspaws of the global corporations’. National governments were increasingly marginalised. Media moguls were moulding men’s minds. People had lost their innocence as human beings; they were beleaguered in a battle for their minds and were unable to resist. There had been a loss of critical faculty. Not need but greed had become the watchword to an extent that was not sustainable. The victims of this greed were women and the disempowered communities, and the eco-system itself. Aslam Azhar said he feared it may be too late to recover that lost innocence. Humanity had been expelled from the garden of Eden for a second time - this time for ever.
Kishwar Naheed, presenting a woman’s perception of the media, deplored the images of women’s fashion and the representation of violence towards women on television. Classical dancing and classical music had all but disappeared from both TV and radio; even ghazals were rarely performed or heard on the electronic media. She had been involved in a Media Watch programme run by a private agency with no support from advertisers. The cultural pleasure of writing had been taken over by the Internet and chat rooms. She criticised the Indian focus of BBC TV programmes. She noted that documentary films by women had made a significant difference in bringing about a new culture.
Dr Altamash Kamal (Xibercom) began his address with a robust defence of the new technology. ‘If Ghalib had had a computer’ he said, ‘ he would have written much more and much better!’. He noted the speed of news brought by new technology and the enhanced ability for communication within families – for example video telephony to the United States. As a practical example of the impact of what he called the ‘confluence of new technology’, he said 17, 000 subscribers to Dawn’s internet newspaper had news of a recent bomb blast in Karachi within seven minutes of it happening. He also stressed the interractive element and the ability to tap into news whenever convenient. The new technology also made possible one-person initiatives which could have an enormous impact – for example the Drudge report files on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Moreover consumerist messages could be filtered out on the Internet. Developing successful revenue models remained a problem. Moving from free distribution to subscription was still difficult. But progress was being made. Government, on the other hand, had a poor track record at making policy decisions on media issues and an even worse record at making techologically well-informed choices. In his opinion, the best choice for Pakistan was to have no media policy.
Pakistan’s responses to the satellite environment
Mirza, MD PTV, took
the opportunity to clear up what he called
He said that PTV had been late in responding to the satellite challenge. But he said ‘we don’t only want to respond with like for like; we want to develop our own culture’. The creation of the new family channel was part of that process. He believed that satellite culture would be short-lived as it was not a true reflection of society. PTV was now a profitable organisation but over the past three years it had received no subsidy from the government. In these circumstances, it was difficult to maintain a balanced role as both national broadcaster and commercial channel. All funding for the expansion of programmes had to come from its own resources and the perception of commercialisation was largely due to the expansion of the schedules. He said ‘our approach is to go to the people - and to develop issue based programmes.’ PTV had sponsored a ‘ phenomenal growth of the private sector’ which was encouraging fresh talent and fresh ideas. But there were dangers that over-rapid growth might affect the quality of programmes.
Imran Aslam (Consultant GEO) in a witty speech about the impact of the satellite revolution said that satellites orbiting around Mother India had been a wake up call for Pakistan. ‘After decades of information and entertainment drought, it was if a prohibition had been lifted. A forbidden and exotic brew had suddenly become available and with the zeal of a born-again drunkard we drained the glass, killed the bottle and enjoyed the higher celestial freedom from terrestrial tyranny. But when we came to, our head was throbbing with a hegemonistic hangover. We were under a footprint of some satellite by default. It was the footprint of an abominable showman, which had all but crushed our individualism, our carefully crafted values, our manifest destiny and some would say even our identity.’
‘ The problem was that we had been told that Pakistan was not a territorial construct; that it was based on an idea; that its very survival depended on our ability to remain un-Indian. We were the non-veg part of the traditional Indian menu. And now suddenly we looked at our neighbours, whom we had demonised for years and years, and we were confronted with an image of perhaps our better selves. By some sleight of hand, by some televisual surgery, India had removed all its pock marks. There were no banias, no slums, no dhotis, no communalism, no caste, no rural hinterland, no hunger. India had affected a makeover and was stepping out like a debutante. And the party never stopped: 24 hours a day we were confronted with the navel bombardments of Madhuri Dixit.’
‘The Maginot line of physical defence had been by-passed by the new images entering our drawing rooms. Set-piece battles were a thing of the past and as Aslam Azhar said ‘ the battle for the mind had begun’. Unfortunately, our ammunition dumps were soggy and obsolete. Our response was to question our public broadcaster and its philosophy and to rush out and become like one of those channels. Form was all; content be damned! Political, religious and moral censors were replaced by the censor of commerce. The ‘ feel-good, sub thik thak’ environment which consumerism requires became the order of the day. ‘Bring on the towns- the villages have no place in the big top. Let a thousand aspirational accents bloom; let the rrs roll. Forget about literature, banish poetry, eradicate theatre, silence classical music, freeze folk traditions, abolish the people, erase the past, trivialise issues and sanction a confessional society.’
But, said Imran Aslam, reality has a habit of forcing its way through. It was a UP farmer who said to him: ‘When did you last see a pesticide advert on a satellite channel?’ The alienation was writ large in his face. GEO, the prospective channel that he had been advising, had been trying to fashion a response to the Indianisation of the airwaves. There was a need for diversity, domestically and internationally. They wanted to end the monologue and begin a dialogue between India and Pakistan. GEO’s aim was to be ‘a true south Asian channel’, ending the one way traffic and recreating talents that had been suppressed or hidden on both sides. But there were problems of a hostile political environment and jealously guarded broadcasting traditions in each country. In India, significantly, despite GEO’s efforts to build a bridge, many of those coming forward were Indian Muslims who somehow felt it would be their channel and would give them space for their culture. In response to a question, he denied that Pakistan had an inferiority complex in relation to Indian TV. Pakistan needed to stake out a different path; it was wrong ‘to erect strong cultural barricades which created misconceptions as to who we are.’
Zohra Yousuf argued for the democratisation of the media, instead of having a ‘big brother’ dictating what people should watch. She regretted that this process had begun not through the enlightenment of the country’s rulers but through technological change over which they had no control. She held that despite criticisms satellite TV had brought liberation from the state monopoly of the airwaves. It had increased empathy for the ordinary Indian and provided a new kind of entertainment. Kaun banega crorepati was the most watched programme in Pakistan.
In earlier years, restrictions on the reflection of Bengali culture had contributed to serious alienation in East Pakistan. The ban on dance on Pakistan TV had forced well known dancers to leave the country. With satellite TV, fortunately, such controls were becoming increasingly irrelvant. Zohra Yousuf characterised PTV’s response to the satellite revolution as ‘ inadequate and incompetent’. There had been an increase in commercialisation but too little effort to control the quality of commercial programmes. Battle had been joined on competitors’ terms, whereas PTV should be providing programmes in the public interest which were being neglected by its commercial rivals. PTV news still paid homage to ‘ the old holy cows’ and lacked credibility. She believed satellite TV offered a platform for dialogue with India which had the potential to promote peace, tolerance and friendship. ‘As the process goes on, it is likely to lead the public to require more of a say in the conduct of foreign affairs which must be a positive development’, she concluded.
During the question session, Yousaf Baig Mirza was asked why PTV was not broadcasting positive images of women in prime time. He was also asked why he had not allowed advertisements for women’s hygiene products. He said that he had pulled the advertisements after six weeks because of pressures from ‘left, right and centre’. He pointed out that the Pakistan press were carrying the same adverts but writing editorials criticising PTV for carrying them. There needs to be more unity on these matters, he said.
Shireen Pasha (a filmmaker from Lahore) complained that PTV did not give priority to information on issues of great social importance. Despite its 90% reach and the country’s serious social problems, there was no examination of gender biases, no investigative reporting and no evaluation or feedback to guide programme makers. She said it would not be enough to move Women’s hour to prime time: women did not want to know how to cook; they wanted to dialogue. She recommended that PTV should devise a plan for more interaction with professionals and with audiences on important social issues.
Kishwar Naheed noted that the World Bank had exerted pressure for social advertisements on PTV, and that PTV should not need to wait for the World Bank to take this kind of initiative. In response to a speaker who criticised PTV news and ‘pontificating diplomats and bureaucrats’, Mr Mirza said that though PTV had to raise its own revenue, it remained a state broadcasting organisation. Another speaker criticised PTV for concentrating on urban audiences and neglecting the rural areas: ‘What is PTV doing to bring the world of these people onto the screen? Another asked when PTV would produce a programme about working women which did not demonise them.
Mirza replied that on his arrival, he had found a lack of
funds, infrastructure and creative people. PTV had been falling behind
for 8 years. Purchase of new equipment had been banned for 15 years.
Now it was profitable again ( it had made a profit of 20-22 crores
per annum over the previous three years) , it had been possible to
buy new equipment and to plan new programme streams. He was now planning
to regionalise programmes between 7 and 9 pm , so that local cultures
could be given more space. It would happen first in Karachi, then
in Lahore and Peshawar. He said: ‘ We want to be a national broadcaster
but we are not given any money. What sort of programmes do you expect
if there is no money from the public exchequer?’. Huma Mustafa
Baig said that the print media had also ignored the realities
of Pakistan; there was a need to focus on current issues with more
news and front page stories relating to Pakistan.
Ghazanfar Ali in a short address said that software production in Pakistan had always been ‘ a trial and error situation’. He said it was ‘whim and fancy’ rather than any kind of planning that had pushed the private channels to the fore; they had had to use untrained actors and actresses and got a lot of flak from PTV. But he said a new generation of young talent was now coming up and making a great contribution, giving the media a new freshness. He lamented the fact that there is no institution for television training in Pakistan. He said the subject should be taken up in schools and universities because of its importance for the future.
Taher Khan said that the marriage of internet, television and telephone was creating a lot of new opportunities. It was fashionable to argue that new technology made it possible to abandon the old building block approach to the media and to make a quantum leap forward. But it was only partially true. The ground realities were that Pakistan had 22 million homes but only 9 million sets. Only about 40% of the population was covered. Existing terrestrial transmissions are probably quite adequate to reach the main population areas. It is poverty and absence of electricity which are the main barriers to bigger audiences.
Taher Khan said Pakistan’s advertising industry knows a lot about urban audiences but very little about the rural areas. But it was clear that where TV is introduced, spending habits do change. Illustrating the point from two villages in Jhang district, one with TV and one without, he said the shops in the TV village were totally different from the other. For some time to come terrestrial TV would continue to be the winner for mass advertising, with cable and satellite a long way behind. Satellite had a much bigger footprint, reaching overseas Pakistanis from Australia to Turkey, but unfortunately these markets were not adding much commercial value at the moment; most advertising remains national. A lesson from the London market, where a dozen Urdu channels are available, is that such audiences want some local programming as well; software production needs to be sensitive to these preferences. Commenting on the choice of channels available in Pakistan, Taher Khan said that Shaheen Pay TV could have been a golden opportunity, offering, with digitisation, up to 200 channels. But it had not been taken up. Now there was a growth of Pakistan-based satellite channels, offering with the international channels, a great extension of choice. The couch potato had become the couch commando. As a result of technical change, hardware was no longer a problem; there was no longer a shortage of capacity. The name of the game was software.
Looking at future trends, Taher Khan said that the Pakistani market would not be able to sustain more than about 2 terrestrial channels and 2 or 3 satellite channels. Some of the satellite channels would go to the wall. But there would be a great expansion of showbiz and entertainment programming. New channels would bring fresh talent. There would also be space, with digitisation, for niche channels. Pakistan could afford to support one good news channel, one sports channel and one music channel. The other factor which would affect Pakistan was the growth of Dubai’s media city, offering uplinking with an assurance of complete freedom of expression. He said ‘hopefully that will help to open up our own media policy’. Hopefully, he said, we will have a media policy, a regulatory body and associations of media professionals.
Nupur Basu of NDTV, the maker of the documentary ‘Michael Jackson comes to Manikganj’, said there was no turning the clock back. The satellite revolution had come to stay. The question was: how could it be taken forward to help the people of the region? She highlighted the South Asian character of ‘Michael Jackson’ which, despite some criticisms from within Pakistan, was aimed at telling the story of satellite television in South Asia from a regional perspective. Nupur argued that satellite TV had brought South Asians closer together, though in times of war, as in the recent conflict over Kargil, national media do tend to become jingoistic. She thought it was unfortunate that geopolitics had stood in the way of more ‘South Asian’ channels. She was sorry that ‘Postcard from Pakistan’ had been taken off Star TV. But she believed that after so many years of monopolistic state television in both India and Pakistan, satellite TV had brought welcome changes. She contrasted Doordarshan’s coverage of the Gujarat earthquake (remarking on the showing of a circus at a time of national tragedy) with the more sensitive and comprehensive coverage of the independent channels. She said that NDTV did try to get people from Pakistan into their studios in Delhi, but there were problems in not having enough bureaus in other South Asian countries; in her view Indian channels should be using Pakistani journalists for their coverage of Pakistan. She commented on the carrying by Pakistan TV of an interview with General Musharraf by the Indian journalist M.J. Akbar at a time when Pakistanis apparently could not get interviews with him. Nupur Basu also spoke of her concern that the market had developed a stranglehold on the medium. It was the weddings of the stars which were making the front page of the Indian newspapers - and the huge drought, which had affected many parts of the India for six or seven years was not getting space. TV should be doing more to put these stories on the air and pressure was needed to make it happen. Nupur believed that South Asian women journalists could be an important force for change. She also argued that more needed to be done for the documentary. So many good documentaries were being made but they were not being aired.
(Gallup Pakistan) gave updated figure for the number of cable homes
in Pakistan - 50% in Karachi, 25-30% in all urban areas- a remarkable
increase in cable in recent years. Satellite TV had now become very
much part of the mainstream. In fact, in Karachi two out of three
satellite viewers did not watch even 15 minutes of terrestrial TV;
in other urban areas it was almost 1 in 2. This was bad news for PTV.
Where satellite is available, only 8% of the audience watch PTV news;
in non-satellite households, the figure is still around 30%. But no
programme on a satellite channel got more than 10% of the audience,
whereas the top programmes on terrestrial still attracted 40% of TV
viewers. Even so, the trend has been downwards over the last twenty
years. In 1980, a popular series like Waris would attract 85% of TV
viewers, whereas by 1984, the climax of the VCR boom, the figure for
a popular series had come down to 65%. It had remained at that kind
of level until 1999 at the height of the satellite boom when it had
dropped to the present level of around 40%. For fifty years broadcasters
had targeted a mass audience, but the situation was changing. Audiences
were fragmenting. For some years the terrestrial audience would remain
large- it was a useful time to establish brands and to make development
programmes. But fragmentation would have important social consequences.
The common TV lounge had had the effect of uniting families and creating
a sense of nationality and community but this was now changing. With
fragmentation it would disappear. Finally, Dr Gilani said that it
was an illusion that if people were given the opportunity of watching
each other through TV, hatred and suspicion would decline. Communication
tended to reinforce either an existing basis for cooperation or an
existing conflict. But he thought it important that satellite TV had
re-introduced audiences to a pluralistic environment. Pakistanis had
been used to living in a single culture but with the satellite revolution
cultural existence is no longer a physical existence but a cyber space
Huma Mustafa Baig said she was pleased to hear the recognition of the need for better software and praise for young people and their energy. But she also warned against the exploitation of young people. She said Pakistan had no TV institute; it had not invested sufficiently in training or production. It would not come up to the mark if it continued to rely on self-taught people. Ghazanfar Ali agreed that private media businesses do need a forum to discuss these issues. He also accepted that very often they are neglected by people ‘on the other side of the table’ who have to worry about the bottom line and other pressures.
Taher Khan was not so pessimistic. He did not believe young people were manipulated. He noted that in India a parliamentary committee on the media had been badgering producers about excessive sex and violence and holding up Pakistani drama as a model worth emulating. We do not have the money to compete with Indian productions like ‘kaun banega crorepati?’ but there is a market for our productions, he said. Shireen Pasha highlighted the need for improved feedback for producers. A small survey in Lahore of Pakistani dramas revealed that they were watched for all sorts of reasons - the beautiful girls, the fashion, the clean story lines - and not just for their quality. A small rural survey had also shown that most people preferred to watch videos of rural women talking about their problems rather than what is available on PTV. There was too much dependence on hypothesis in making dramas and far too little research.
pointed out that in the 1960s and 70s prime time TV did show important
cutting edge themes. But unfortunately ‘the roti never got baked’.
The Zia ul Haq period - the 1980s - had been a sad period in which
the format, the grammar and the sound of television had taken on a
stultifying and oppressive character ‘against which we are still struggling’.
She illustrated her theme by talking about the sound of television
established at that time - its ‘martial tempo’ as she called it -
which did not allow street sound or the voices of ordinary people
to be heard. This
Sajjad Gul spoke briefly but firmly against ‘authoritarianism’ in Islamabad. He was not in favour of a media policy; he thought it would be better if the PTV centres were converted into hospitals or schools, so they could do something useful for the country. At the same time, he said Pakistanis need to identify what sort of culture they want. There was a lack of clear direction, despite 50 years of the country’s existence. ‘We don’t need a regulatory authority; let the intelligentsia decide’ he said.
Hameed Haroon said that following Javed Jabbar’s departure from the ministry, the position with regard to the media in Pakistan had become ‘terribly clear’. Whatever RAMBO ( the regulatory authority proposed by Javed Jabbar) should have done, its aim was to create more freedom of expression, more media diversity, and ‘ I think that is now dead’. Javed Jabbar believed in diversity and decentralisation and ‘I think JJ conned the establishment’. But with his departure, General Musharraf’s promise of privatisation in his first speech to the nation was clearly no longer on the agenda. RAMBO had meant independent channels, not time-marketing, but we are not one step closer to that in terms of a government agenda, he said.
Looking at the Pakistan
media scene, Hameed Haroon said he was pleased to see Ghazanfar Ali’s
initiative on satellite TV, but he doubted whether he would have deep
enough pockets to survive the marketing recession and the bad infrastructure.
He also pointed out that PTV’s current financial health was not a
straightforward indicator. ‘How much of PTV’s revenue comes from parts
of the organisation which were outside PTV in the past?’ he asked.
Before Javed Jabbar’s departure from the ministry, there had been
disagreement on details but no two views on the road map itself. A
freer media environment, de-concentration of television and radio
stations, competitive independent stations fed by earth transmissions
and a media authority to regulate the totality: this had been the
consensus. There was also a promise of independent current affairs
- but one year on this was ‘ a forgotten dream’.
In the subsequent discussion, Aslam Azhar described RAMBO as ‘ well intentioned but incomplete’. There was a need to create an enabling environment for both the electronic media and telecommunications, he said. Hameed Haroon warned against what he called government’s ‘revenue imperative’ in issuing licences for new media. In some places, higher taxes were being charged for cabling permission in villages than for much larger urban units. Altamash Kamal said that nobody had bothered to cable his home in Karachi. What was needed was a multiple licence arrangement, as in Europe, to encourage competition. Shireen Pasha spoke of the importance of training in PTV in the 1970s which laid the basis for the professionalism of that generation of producers. Hameed Haroon said though that there had been a flowering of talent in the early years of television, there had been no safeguards to protect freedom of expression in television during the years of martial law. It had been print journalists, and particularly women journalists like Zohra Yousuf, Najma Babar and Amaneh Azam Ali, who had fought with great courage against remarkable odds at that time. Sadly, post 1990, the desire to fight had been replaced by the desire to cash in. In response to a criticism of the print media for censoring certain kinds of visuals, Hameed Haroon said ‘ unfortunately, unlike most societies, we have not progressed’. He said in recent years the percentage of women seen on the streets in some Karachi bazaars had come down from 70% to 20%, and women were being discouraged from shopping in bazaars in Peshawar for fear of having acid thrown in their faces. These were new realities, which the print media had to be take into account.
Javed Jabbar, winding up the session, gave his view that ‘ culture is too complex and deep-rooted to be imperilled by TV - by a dozen Indian channels or five dozen channels’. TV can affect styles but some parts of culture do not change. ‘We are survivors of outstanding Christian missionary schools... but how many of us have converted to Christianity?’ He put down some of the fears to ‘paranoia’. ‘53 year old Pakistan needs more time to acquire the assurance of neighbours with a thousand years of history’ but culture is always being tested and change is healthy. He said the discussion on ‘ Culture and Communication’ had been a little unfair to communication. The concentration on TV had neglected the role of satellites in disseminating all sorts of other information which shapes our lives.
Commenting on a conclusion of ‘Satellites over South Asia’ that satellite communication could have been used more imaginatively for South Asian purposes, he agreed that there were few forums with this objective apart from SAVE ( a SAARC initiative to exchange TV programmes) and one or two private media initiatives like NAMEDIA ( inspired by Nikhil Chakravarty) and SAMA ( the South Asian Media Association). The fact of asymmetry put a great responsibility on India, but NAMEDIA was an exception in filling this role.
He divided issues discussed in the workshop into South Asian issues and Pakistani issues. On the first - and particularly on the proliferation issue - he said that it did not matter if you had 500 channels; ultimately content would be king. He also pointed out that prime time was a fossilised concept when it came to satellite TV. On the changing of parameters in Pakistan, he said first and foremost we should aim at social regulation. But regulation was necessary. If the USA with its famous first amendment needed a Regulatory Commission for the media, ‘the idea that we can abandon these issues to the market makes no sense’. All societies have some form of reglation. The media is too complex and influential to be self-regulated, he said. In the media field, Javed Jabbar said ‘ the real battle is not with India but within Pakistan’. He believed that the Chief Executive’s promise on 17 October 1999 would be implemented. ‘He is a brave man, a consensus builder, a collegial person’ and I have a feeling that in the first half of 2002 you will see some measures on licensing, he said. The key question still being asked is ‘ when does pluralism become disintegration?’ ‘We lost half our country because we did not recognise pluralism and yet the question is still being asked’ he commented. In his opinion, there was no alternative to the need to expand the base of the media in Pakistan. Time-marketing was only reinforcing the monopoly of PTV - now more entrenched than three years earlier. He described access to the mass media in Pakistan as ‘ at starvation levels’ and ‘abominable’. If Turkey could have 1600 private radio stations and not feel concerns over security why not Pakistan? Commenting on the draft media law, he said that it did not exclude cross-media ownership. Nor did it defer News and Current Affairs till later. The new authority may differ but the law did not prescribe this.
What the book launch and the workshop had highlighted was ‘the need for greater activism within Pakistan on media issues’. How often do Pakistani newspapers write about media issues? he asked. Since October 2000, no editorial had appeared on what had happened to RAMBO, despite government sensitivities to media criticism.
In conclusion, Javed Jabbar came to the defence of Pakistan Television. Over the past one and a half years, he said, it had allowed unrestricted debate on issues like the Freedom of Information Bill, the Kalabagh Dam debate, the Budget. Apart from what he called ‘the wretched ban on political leaders appearing on TV’, there had sometimes been outspoken criticism of government. PTV had also done well enough to be banned on Indian cable systems, despite the fact that Pakistani viewers were able to watch 24 Indian channels. During the Hijacking incident, PTV hit back so effectively in rebutting the Indian media minute by minute that even the Indian newspapers commented on it. His final thought was that PTV should be turned into a trust - on the model of the Trust for Voluntary Organisations, which shows that a Government-constituted trust can operate autonomously.