Pakistan imports illegal Dish TV from India but refuses to rid itself of ancient cable operators?

Introducing DTH in Pakistan is not just about advanced technology; it is about media war and illegal money.

Saman Asif January 22, 2014
How many of us have exclaimed with joy and literally hooted at the following sentence, at least once in their lifetime?
“Oh, great! Xyz channel aagaya!

 (Oh great! Xyz channel is available now!)

Honestly, I have seen this reaction every time a cable operator tunes in any channel which he had previously stopped running without any prior notice and schedule. I am sure any and every Pakistani has experienced this, whether they reside in the urban areas, suburbs or the unincorporated villages.

The sole cause of this problem is the existence of the TV cable industry, which we still have in use, while this technology has been replaced across the globe with Direct-to-Home (DTH) systems.

Now before you go rushing to Google what DTH is, let me remind you that you must have seen countless advertisements about DTH from across the border. Ever heard of Reliance India, Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV and so forth?

Yes, those are all DTH products. DTH systems provide digital television services directly to the end-users, that is, subscribers – thus eliminating the need for cable TV infrastructure.

However, the idea of choosing our own select list of channels is still a mere dream in our country. Imagine having the facility to subscribe to only your favourite channels! It would be like choosing dishes on an à la carte menu. Imagine making packages according to your demand, paying for only that which you want to see and having a plethora of other facilities such as parental controls, booking facilities, recording of your shows, Electronic Program Guide (EPG) and many other characteristics that have revolutionised the digital broadcast industry.

The question is, if half the globe has replaced the old cable operator industry with DTH then why is Pakistan still falling behind?

Does our nation suffer through technophobia?

Err, no.

I think Pakistanis, especially the youth, rank quite high when it comes to infotainment.

So, is it our government or is it the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)?

Having a journalistic background, I do have friends in the media and broadcast industry. At a get-together last Saturday at a local pizza joint with some of these friends, the topic of DTH emerged from nowhere and our table ended up becoming one of the noisiest in the entire place.

One friend who works for a leading newspaper stated that the Cable Operator Association of Pakistan (COAP) has a very strong lobby and they have made sure that DTH technology does not gain a stronghold in the country in order to maintain their own monopoly and profit in the industry. He said that the launch of DTH has been discussed on all platforms but the COAP lobby continues to fight for its postponement.

Hence, this cutting-edge technology is still neglected by the state authorities and PEMRA. Some other friends disagreed with him and this sparked my curiosity. Being an inquisitive person by nature, I decided to dig out the truth for myself instead of relying on other sources.

I called the PEMRA head office the very next day.

The head of Public Relations (PR) and Media Department who also happens to be the official spokesperson, refused to divulge his name but that did not really matter because the information he provided was of vital importance and also eliminated every fallacious and inaccurate view that I had.

He explained that contrary to popular belief, Pakistan was the pioneer in introducing DTH technology in South Asia.

I was shocked to hear this.

He went on to say,
“We initiated the project back in 2003. The biggest media giants of our country – ARY and Geo TV submitted the bids. But both these groups could not pursue the project due to the extensive working and enormous budget that it required. According to the law, the license would be withdrawn if it did not become operational within a year. Eventually the case went into court and now after 11 years, PEMRA has submitted the bid for which various companies have shown interest. Very soon some good news will emerge.”

In spite of his clarification, I am still not sure whom to believe – the PEMRA spokesperson or the others?

But in either case, we cannot and should not forget that once DTH is introduced, there will be a major change in our home entertainment. Also, I think that it is high time that our government should take DTH technology, and other technological advances like the 3G operating system, seriously, especially since it is already being run in our households illegally.

Dish TV (Indian DTH) setup boxes are imported through China and Dubai, and are sold in every city of Pakistan. Each illegal distributor is earning around US$20 million every month out of which 98% goes to India. Consequently a total of US$150 million is sent across the border without tax deduction.

Legal activation of DTH services in the country would mean an increase in job opportunities, tax generation and a decrease in the cultural war between the two countries, since using Indian DTH means that we are only able to view foreign content.

To encapsulate the entire discussion, I would say that introducing DTH in Pakistan is not just about advanced technology; it is about media war and illegal money. The government needs to take a serious action against not only the illegal Indian DTH service providers but also against local cable operators who are running foreign content and destroying our culture.
Saman Asif A marketing manager at a leading management consultancy firm, Saman also works as a freelance writer for various lifestyle magazines. She tweets as @s_as
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


waqas | 9 years ago | Reply Dish TV (Indian DTH) setup boxes are imported through China and Dubai, and are sold in every city of Pakistan
B L GAUTAM | 9 years ago | Reply I am fairly familiar with the searing issue of illegal Indian DTH services, and have also read the media reports on this. The spread is growing every passing day. While Indian service providers are, leisurely and brazenly making hay, the organized crime syndicate is having the last laugh. After realizing that this clandestine business mocks Indian as well as UAE laws and it has become uncontrollable over the years, I knocked the door of the Supreme Court of India, and filed a PIL by a letter-petition. I am hopeful that the court will show a way. I have no personal interest in the case except that the brazenness of this illicit business hurts the dignity of anyone who respects the law. Meanwhile I got a chance to discuss this matter with many of my Indian friends in UAE. They found my whole exercise crazy at the first thought, and also a threat to their cheap and cheerful TV viewing. It took months for them to appreciate the moral gains behind my thought. Today most of them are with me, all ready to consign their illegal set-top boxes to the fire. Sir, we are living in a time of change. After having touched the nadir of morality, the communities are now craving for the values in their lives. They are on to wrong things only because everyone around is. People are sick of the moral degradation in their life. And the media can do a great service by spreading the good we have in us. Believe me sir, once 50-100 of such customers come forward to surrender their boxes/cards in presence of the UAE authorities it will have a cascading affect. People back home will get sensitized to the issue, the operators will get a jolt, and the agencies in India will come out of slumber to do their part of the job. We will perhaps see a positive development even before the matter comes for the court’s consideration. Please feel free to contact me if you believe that together we can bring a change. Warm regards, B L Gautam Mob: +971552055075
maazkalim | 9 years ago So you so sympathize with OSN (the only DTH-operator in Arabia[n Peninsula]/GCC countries/Gulf!!! Wrong?? In fact, I seriously want you to validate my this [perceived-]fact, as far as I've reached on Google at different periods)?! And yes, you know that using Indian DTH is illegal in Gulf [but Dish TV isn't, in Pakistan!], so what did you think?! What's the principal reason behind this?? Is it only cheap and “cheerful” TV viewing [experience] which you already pointed out or the reason is much bigger than this?! I hope you reply me every query completely, patiently and most-importantly, POLITELY! :-) Disclaimer: I'm a Resident-Indian who have many known relatives/acquaintances using Dish TV [SD] connections [since years]. :|
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