Info minister says ministry has only asked PEMRA to postpone bidding process for DTH service until appointment of permanent PEMRA chief
DTH service licences could bring in FDI of around $160m into the country’s broadcast media
The Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been trying to halt the bidding process for licences for Direct-to-Home (DTH) service, which is stated to be in its final stage, by arm-twisting the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Pakistan Today has learnt.
The DTH service licences could bring in foreign direct investment (FDI) of around $160 million into the country’s broadcast media.
Documents available with Pakistan Today reveal that the Ministry of Information is pressurising PEMRA despite the fact that under the law, it has no powers to dictate terms to the broadcast regulatory authority as it is supposed to be autonomous and functions under the prime minister’s control.
However, despite the fact that PEMRA is in the final stages of implementing the DTH licence, the Ministry of Information ordered the authority to immediately halt the process till the new chairman takes over.
A source in PEMRA told Pakistan Today that if the Authority ceases the process at this stage without any valid reason, not only it would shake the confidence of the investors in Pakistan’s media industry but it would also jeopardise the image of the authority which under the law is autonomous, proving that it is, in fact, subservient to the government of the day – an allegation PEMRA already faces from opposition parties.
Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Pervaiz Rashid, however, dispelled the impression of arm twisting of PEMRA, telling Pakistan Today that the Authority had been advised to cease the bidding process for DTH service as it was working under an acting chairman.
“The acting chairman is mandated only to take day-to-day decisions while any major policy decision is to be taken by a fulltime chairman of the Authority. Since the government has already appointed a chairman, who is due to take charge on December 1, we have advised the authority to cease the process and allow the new chairman to take a decision in this regard,” the minister said.
Under PEMRA rules, approved by the Information Ministry itself in 2009, the Authority and not the chairman is mandated to grant the licences. The relevant law says: “Rule 9. Grant of licence. (1) The Authority shall, if it is satisfied that the applicant fulfils the criteria as provided for in the Ordinance, these rules and regulations made thereunder and has paid the prescribed fee and other charges, if any, grant licence to the applicant”.
Moreover, section 19 of the PEMRA (amendment) Act, passed by the parliament, also gives exclusive powers to the Authority and not the chairman to issue licences for all operations. Under the amended law, chairman is a mere member of the authority and has no exclusive powers.
On the contrary, a ministry’s letter No. F.N.2(25)/2015-PEMRA issued on October 29, 2015, referred to the applications solicited by PEMRA for Establishment of DTH service in Pakistan through advertisements published in national dailies on September 10, the competent authority “advised” the authority “to withhold the process till the permanent chairman assumes the office”.
The authority responded to the ministry’s letter, stating that it enjoyed the powers to launch the DTH service as an autonomous operator. “The launch of DTH service in Pakistan as per timeline approved by the authority, which is competent for DTH licensing under Section 19 of PEMRA Ordinance 2002 (Amendment Act 2007), has already been widely publicized,” the letter said.
The letter added that PEMRA had hired the consultancy services of a Switzerland based International Consultant M/s Digital Strategy Consulting & Service Switzerland by floating Request for Proposals (RFP) through national dailies on October 30, 2014 through an open and transparent manner. The consultant was required to submit his report comprising overview of the electronic media business market, suggesting number of DTH licences to be awarded, bidding/auctioning procedure, licencing terms and conditions etc within 105 days after signing the contract on March 24, 2015.
As per terms and conditions of the contract, the consultant submitted the final report to the Authority in its 105th meeting held on August 12, 2015. The Authority in exercise of powers conferred under section 4, 18 and 19 (1) of the PEMRA Ordinance 2002 as amended by the PEMRA (Amendment) Act, 2007 read with all other enabling provisions approved the PEMRA Eligibility Criteria and Bidding/Auctioning Procedure for Direct to Home (DTH) Distribution Service Licensing Regulations-2015 for DTH Licensing. All the process has been carried out under lawful authority and in a very transparent manner.
While approving the recommendations of the consultant, the Authority decided to initiate the licensing process for Direct to Home (DTH) service. Accordingly, Eligibility Criteria and Bidding/Auctioning procedure for award of licences was notified in the form of Gazette (SRO 1390 (2015) / Ex.Gaz) on 8th September, 2015.
An advertisement inviting applications for DTH Licences was published in newspapers on September 10, 2015 while uploading the Information Memorandum (IM) containing eligibility criteria, Licence Terms and condition, application forms etc on the same day. All the prospective applicants were free to ask questions regarding the DTH licensing process. The queries were answered on daily basis and uploaded on PEMRA website which are still available.
A pre-bid conference was held on October 9, 2015 at PEMRA HQs, Islamabad which was the final opportunity for the prospective applicants to clarify their queries. As many as 25 national and international prospective applicant companies participated in the pre-bid conference.
It was highlighted by PEMRA as well as by the potential applicants that there are hundreds of thousands of illegal Indian DTH subscribers in Pakistan, causing huge losses to the national exchequer. The delay in launch of Pakistani DTH services is helping this illegal market to flourish.
It is expected that successful launch of DTH services in Pakistan would result in investment of about $150 million, create 12,000 jobs and generate a tidy sum for PEMRA and the federal government in revenue.
The last date for submission of applications for DTH licences was November 6, 2015 and 10 applications have been received in this regard. The bidding/auctioning for grant of DTH licences is scheduled to be held on December 7, 2015.
However, the ministry is adamant about stopping the process. In a subsequent letter dated November 9, the ministry directed the authority in strong terms to submit a compliance report per its previous order to cease the licensing process.
The authority responded the same day, informing the ministry that the licencing process was now in its final stage and that the authority had received applications from a number of national and international companies. The licencing process, the letter continued, had been initiated with the approval of the authority.
The letter said that an exclusive meeting of the authority was being convened to discuss the matter and decisions of the authority would be conveyed to the ministry.
The ministry, however, responded again in a strong manner, citing Rules of Business 1973 ordering the authority to comply with the ministry’s directives.