The managing director of cash-strapped Radio Pakistan has defended proposed bailout in the form of radio tax, saying the public broadcaster is a nursery for novice and a sole source of information for people of backward areas.
“There have been calls demanding closure of the organisation if it is persistently making losses. But they need to consider passionately the significance of public broadcasting, which is not commercially viable even in India, China, Japan and European countries,” said Murtaza Solangi at a press conference at Radio Pakistan here on Saturday.
A National Assembly standing committee has approved recommendations of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) for a 2% tax on cellphone recharge and a one-off Rs4,000 tax on purchase of all types of vehicles. If the taxes are imposed, the PBC will collect around Rs4 billion annually.
According to Solangi, the PBC has been allocated hardly half the budget it had sought from the government in recent years. “In fiscal year 2011-12, we got Rs2.10 billion against demand of Rs4.22 billion. The deficit was Rs2.20 billion in 2010-11, Rs1 billion in 2009-10 and Rs656 million in 2008-09.” The shortage of funds began in 2006, he added.
Solangi said PBC’s salary component alone consumed Rs2.5 billion with share of pensioners at Rs700 million.
He drew comparison with other public-service organisations, which although did not generate revenues but secured a significant amount from the country’s annual budget.
“Police, army and many other organisations are well supported but are never asked to be commercially viable. Our stations work round the clock in situations like natural calamities as a key source of information to the affected people,” he said.
Discussing PBC’s earnings, Solangi said the broadcaster earned Rs300 million out of more than Rs1 billion revenues from advertisements on all modes including short wave, medium wave and FM, which is mostly run by the private sector.
However, he pointed out that advertisers were reluctant to give commercials for medium-wave broadcasts, but did not elaborate. “The irony is that maintaining the medium-wave station is far too costly than FM stations.”
He contended that FM technology was limited to big cities and if the PBC crumbled under financial woes, the underdeveloped areas would totally lose the radio facility.
“I don’t personally favour putting financial burden on ordinary people, but at the same time the exigencies of public service broadcasting should be considered,” Solangi said.
Highlighting the broadcaster’s financial condition, Radio Pakistan Regional Director Naseer Mirza, who was also present at the press conference, said employees had not been paid for three months, besides delay in payment of honorarium to the artists for their shows.
The corporation is also in the process of regularising 661 employees working on contract. A government committee, headed by Federal Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah, is reviewing the case.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2012.