Outdoor advertisers have been using generators for years

Farhan Zaheer April 22, 2010

KARACHI: In an attempt to conserve energy, the government on Thursday announced a cut in electricity connections of all billboards across the country. However, outdoor advertising officials say that they have already been on generators for years. Announcing the measures to save at least 500 megawatts of electricity, the Federal Minister for Water and Power, Raja Parvez Ashraf, said that all the electricity connections of neon boards and billboards will be cut across the country.

“This is totally absurd, billboard power connections have been disconnected for the last three years. What change would this make?” said CEO of Out & About outdoor media agency, Jawad Ghulam Rasool. Those who do not have electricity connections are using reflective mediums on billboards, he said. “It seems that the minister for water and power took this decision just to please the Punjab government which has been running a campaign against billboards in its province,” he said.

“Karachi is the only city where you find regularised billboards that the city government had regularised in the aftermath of the windstorms that killed half a dozen people in 2007,” he said. The government now also wants to regularise billboards in Lahore, he added. There are three stakeholders in the billboard business, he said. First who put up the billboard, second are the clients that advertise on it and third are the authorities who collect revenues, he said.

Take the example of Karachi, there is no electricity available to the billboards around the airport area, he said. “Similarly, cantonment areas and city district government areas are all without power connections,” added Rasool. “KESC is not providing power connections to billboards and it is the duty of the city government of Karachi. The City District Government of Karachi is our client that collects revenue from these billboards and pays our power dues,” Amir Abbasi, spokesperson for the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) told The Express Tribune. Another official of an outdoor advertising company, on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the KESC was not providing new power connections to billboards in Karachi.

“Almost all the billboards are now without electricity connections or are running on generators,” he said, adding “the government’s decision to disconnect power connections of billboards will not make any change.” An official of an outdoor advertising agency said “since most of the billboards in big cities are now running on generators, this business is totally harmless.” Replying to a question, he said “even if you calculate overall fuel that these billboards use, it would not add up much to the soaring oil import bill of Pakistan.”

This decision will actually cut government revenues that earn millions from these billboards, one official said, adding that as an alternative the government should allow duty free solar powered billboard lights. While most of the industry officials criticised the government’s decision, some have different views. Since the government has few options in energy conservation. The idea to cut electricity of billboard connections may make some difference and outdoor industry is ready to bear this loss, an official of an outdoor advertising company said.

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