About 200 radios running in private sector at district level across country risk closure as broadcasters insist the volatile market and poor returns hardly allow them to accept phenomenal raise in their license renewal fee.
A recent Supreme Court ruling, overriding a Lahore High Court decision favoring private broadcasters has sent shocking waves among the FM license holders, who have now either to accept or pay at least 15 times higher fees to continue with the business or close down the FMs altogether.
“We are confronting difficult circumstances not only due to the country’s economic slowdown but also due to the reason that the regulator has failed to close down 70 illegal FMs operating across Pakistan,” said the spokesperson of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Najib Ahmad, adding that since non-licensed FMs are being operated on commercial basis, our business prospects are doomed.
“If I go by the new license renewal formula I will have to pay Rs. 800,000 for my Islamabad based FM per month though the situation varies in other districts,” Najib says wondering how he can compete and ensure his business sustainability in a market where illegal radios are operating with coverage more vast than his.
The PBA through a writ petition filed by late Asma Jahangir in Supreme Court in 2016 had sought ban on the un-regulated FMs to ensure competitive environment but the case remains unheard till today.
“We expect the regulator to fulfill its responsibility, which is to ensure competitive environment and devise policies for the development of the FM sector, rather than indulging in money-minting practices,” Najib said adding that in case the renewal fee proves too heavy for owners, the future of this sector is doomed and it has very strategic implications.
“Indian FM channels, with advanced technology and quality content, have already made enough encroachments in border areas but no serious effort has been made on our side to counter them,” the spokesperson said insisting that broadcasting is a serious sector and must not be taken just for revenue generation.
It is worth mentioning that the PEMRA has not conducted market study so far and not undertaken any mentionable project for up-gradation and capacity building of the FM sector to attract new investor, which makes license bidding process subject to manipulation by the vested interests.