Introducing more radio stations could prove instrumental in educating people and creating awareness in the rural communities, where other sources for disseminating information are limited. This was consensus of the panelists at a conference on “FM Radio as a voice for local communities-building a better broadcast sector in Pakistan,” that took place on Thursday. The conference brought together about 40 FM radio stations from all over Pakistan to take stock of 10 years of independent broadcasting in the country. It also focused on evaluation and reviewed the successes and shortcomings of the radio sector in the country.
The panelists proposed to form an association of the radio stations. They asked the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to relax rules as far as issuing licenses and running the FM radios is concerned.
The participants pointed out that such regulations are workable and cited the example of Nepal where radio stations have come together and evolved interesting sustainability models. Nepal has 200 FM stations for its population of 30 million whereas Pakistan has only 140 radio stations against a population of 180 million. There is capacity for 1,000 more stations, said an expert. “The FM radio stations are an effective tool of information in remote areas as these communities are cut-off from other sources of information including television, internet and newspapers,” said Intermedia Pakistan Executive Director Adnan Rehmat.
Adnan cited that Federally Administered Tribal Areas have a population of five million with only three government-controlled radio stations. Islamabad, on the other hand, has only one million population with nine radio stations. In the coming years, these numbers would also increase even from Karachi due to commercial viability. Pakistan is a multilingual country and radio is the only platform to cater to the need of communities and there is need for visibility, sharing of information and commitment, he added.
People from different radio stations were not satisfied with the current set up, demanding Pemra to take up the role of a “facilitator rather than an enemy”.
Mahesh from Ghotki was critical about PEMRA and said that the radio sector does not need an ‘enemy’ in the presence of Pemra. While, Najeeb Ahmad of Power 99, said that Pemra’s licensing process itself is ambiguous-- there is no clear structure or process. Since Pemra does not know what to get out of the sector, the licenses are not issued to the professionals, he added.
Dr Fauzia, who heads the radio station at SZABIST, said that the license renewal process should be tied to outcomes or objectives, which is missing now as the stations operate without a mission or vision.
“There is an opportunity to avail this gathering to form an organisation, a body that the Pemra itself will recognise as a force and invite for negotiations,” said Dr Masroor Khan from NUST.
Moreover, Tayyab Afridi from Inter-News proposed that for remote areas license fee should be minimum, keeping in mind the economic viability of the area and then the fee structure should be categorised accordingly.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2011.
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