In order to expand media outreach throughout Pakistan, the army is planning to set-up a countrywide radio network parallel to Radio Pakistan and PTV to create what it calls ‘social harmonisation’ and to propagate ‘state vision’ in a ‘vibrant manner.’
After the successful execution of FM radio projects in militancy-hit areas of Swat, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Balochistan, a nationwide network of FM radios with a proposed name ‘Apna Pakistan’ is on the cards.
The network will run under the banner of 96 International Radio Network, with the military pulling the strings from behind the scene. Though most of the employees working with the network are civilians, a serving army officer will be the chief executive officer (CEO).
Taliban militants had set up their own network after having destroyed the state media network in Malakand. When the army moved in, it uprooted the militant network and established FM96 Radio Swat which has now been renamed FM96 Radio Pakhtoonkhwa.
Headed by a serving colonel of Pakistan Army, the network has continued to extend its outreach further and another station with coverage in Waziristan and Fata was later established which is now working as FM96 Pakhtoonzar. Yet another one was established for Balochistan named FM96 Vash Noori.
Equipped with state-of-the-art digital technology, the first of its kind in Pakistan, these radio networks are running ‘infotainment’ programmes - mainly local and Indian music - to counter ‘anti-state’ propaganda, officials said.
When the first army sponsored FM radio was set up in Swat, the responsibility of broadcasting was shared by three state organisations. A studio facility was provided by the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), satellite uplink was made available by Pakistan Television (PTV), installation of transmitting stations with recurring expenditures were borne by the army, whereas the ministry of information and broadcasting remained a linchpin.
Set up on February 24, 2009, the network initially used the studios of PBC/Radio Pakistan and the satellite facilities of PTV, but it now has a separate set-up in Islamabad and goes under the name of ‘Nine Six Media House’ where the latest studio facilities are available. Programmes, mostly of an interactive nature, in different dialects of Pashto and Balochi are being broadcast from the newly established office.
Since the set-up was being run through state organs, it was not registered with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).
Last year, the CEO of 96 International Radio Network approached the PBC to incorporate the network as an independent subsidiary of the PBC, but with its own ‘independent’ media policy. However, the PBC administration declined the idea.
The PBC reportedly said that it would be appropriate if 96 International Radio Network applied to Pemra for an independent licence. The PBC also claimed that it was not authorised to grant permission to use its own frequency to a private person for a private purpose.
Under the law, only a state broadcaster is allowed to launch a broadcast network bypassing Pemra, but in this case 96 International Radio Network appears to be trying to dodge regulatory and financial oversight by entering into an agreement with an official media house.
The PBC refusal to accommodate did not deter sponsors and now a draft agreement is ready to be signed between Shalimar Recording and Broadcasting Company Limited (SRBC), itself a subsidiary of PTV. The 96 International Radio Network aims to register itself as SRBC’s subsidiary.
However, both organisations will continue to be governed by their own rules and regulations.
ISPR, the media wing of the Pakistan Army, when approached for details of the proposed project, declined to comment. However, the CEO of 96 International Radio Network, during a candid interaction with The Express Tribune, said the network is being planned with the concept of ’socio-cultural broadcast’ to bring social harmony to a society that has been radicalised. He said it is yet to be decided if the network will be a subsidiary of the PBC, SRBC or PTV.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2012.