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Dawn Editorial 27 July 2020

PTV’s role

THE government has deferred a decision to increase the licence fee of PTV from Rs35 to Rs100 per month. While this is a sensible move for now, possibly under pressure from the public outcry, the decision to do so could be taken in the near future. PTV has been groaning under financial pressure for years and despite tall claims, no government has really been able to turn the organisation around. It is a sad fact that time and again the taxpayer has had to shoulder the burden of mismanagement and cronyism that have been part of PTV under successive governments. Increasing the licence fee today amounts to punishing the citizens for mistakes of the government.
Charging citizens a licence fee can be justified if the former get value for their money from a broadcaster. However for this to happen, a fundamental shift in the thinking of the Pakistani state has to take place with regard to PTV. Governments call PTV a ‘state broadcaster’. This is wrong. It is supposed to be a ‘public broadcaster’ because it is meant to serve the public and not be a mouthpiece for the state or government of the day. The failure to understand the role of a taxpayer-funded TV channel is the core reason why governments have failed to build PTV as a credible organisation producing content that is aimed at the public good. No government, unfortunately, has been able to break out of its myopia and grasp the enormous potential that lies hidden inside PTV. This potential can only be unleashed if it is transformed into a public broadcaster whose financially viability is subsumed in its core role of serving the public with content that puts citizens ahead of the advertiser. Every prime minister has expressed his or her desire to turn PTV into a ‘BBC model’ but none has had the breadth of vision to understand what this entails. As a consequence, PTV continues to be treated as a platform for crude, low-quality propaganda peddled by insecure governments and executed by bureaucrats and professionals who measure the value of public broadcasting through its balance sheets alone.
PTV has been a tragedy unfolding over the decades in slow motion. The PTI government at the centre, for all its tall rhetoric, has stooped to the same low level of thinking about PTV that was displayed by the PPP and PML-N governments. PTV today suffers not from a bankruptcy of revenue but a bankruptcy of vision. In an age of media transformation, PTV is fast becoming a dinosaur. The only thing that can save it is if someone can truly reimagine its ethos, role and potential for the years ahead. Throwing good money after bad — which is what the increase in licence fee amounts to — makes no sense. But then not much does when it comes to PTV.


Another package

EVERY ‘Balochistan development package’ proposed by successive federal governments that has come to naught has only increased the sense of alienation among the Baloch. Such declarations appear to them to be no more than an exercise periodically indulged in to give lip service to addressing the province’s deprivation. In 2009, for instance, the PPP government announced the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package with great fanfare; that sank without a trace. In 2017, a few months before the general election, then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi declared an economic package for the province which died a natural death with the polls. On Friday, during a meeting of the National Development Council, Prime Minister Imran Khan set up a three-member committee to prioritise areas where development should be undertaken in Balochistan, with a focus on communications, agriculture, energy and other important sectors. At the meeting, it was also decided to set up the Balochistan Mineral Company to enhance exploration of mineral resources in the province. Can this initiative succeed where so many others have failed? Has there been any introspection within the state apparatus that has brought some understanding of our hitherto ruinous policy towards Balochistan?
After decades of broken promises, political engineering and enforced disappearances, the trust deficit between the centre and the Baloch is vast. Yet it is not, one hopes, unbridgeable. The majority of them yearn to live in peace and dignity, with the space to exercise the autonomy that is their right under the 18th Amendment. One of their fundamental grievances is that Balochistan has been deprived of its fair share in the mineral wealth that lies beneath its land, and that it is exploited as a colony rather than treated as an equal member of the federation. The province has indeed long been viewed through a narrow securitised lens, with its people’s legitimate expectations being made to take a back seat to national geostrategic concerns. Such an environment has provided fertile ground for regional powers to make mischief and foment rebellion. While the ongoing insurgency has been simmering since nearly a decade and a half, recent attacks carried out by banned Baloch separatist outfits indicate they can still draw new recruits to their cause. These groups are also manifesting a shift towards a more lethal modus operandi. To neutralise them ironically requires not a security-centric but a political solution, one rooted in a rights-based approach that prioritises the aspirations of the Baloch.


S-China spat

THE war of words and actions between the US and China has been escalating over the past few days, raising eyebrows across the globe, with mounting concerns over the possibility of a more serious confrontation between the world’s top two economies. While even before coming to power President Donald Trump — guided by his ‘America first’ mantra — had been talking about getting ‘tough’ on China, now that re-election looms in November, he may be looking to deliver on that promise. Earlier last week, the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston over allegations of “economic espionage”; Beijing replied in kind by asking America to shut its consulate in Chengdu while calling the allegations “malicious slander”. Moreover, on a recent trip to Europe, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo railed against the People’s Republic with the ideological zeal of a cold warrior, asking “every nation … to understand this threat being posed by the Chinese Communist Party”. Before these developments, Mr Trump had called Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” while accusing China of “extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom” after Beijing applied a new security law in the region.
It needs to be asked why the US is ramping up its anti-China rhetoric in the final months of Mr Trump’s term. It appears that the US leader is pillorying a foreign bogeyman to grab more votes, considering his flagging ratings at home. But while playing the patriotism card and lambasting China may grab him a few percentage points, the long-term impact of this brinkmanship will be negative. When rhetoric is raised to a fever pitch, the probability of unintended, and unwanted, consequences increases manifold. Moreover, while there may be legitimate questions about China’s human rights record, the US chooses to be selective in this regard — hectoring opponents, and looking the other way when allied strongmen abuse rights. Instead of picking an ugly public fight with China at a time of global tension, the US should use more discreet channels to communicate its genuine concerns to Beijing.


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