PEMRA and TV ad­ver­tis­ing

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Reg­u­la­tions of the Pak­istan Elec­tronic Me­dia Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity (PEMRA) re­quire that in a reg­u­lar TV pro­gramme, a con­tin­u­ous break for ad­ver­tis­ing should not ex­ceed 3 min­utes and the time du­ra­tion be­tween two such suc­ces­sive breaks should not be less than 15 min­utes. How­ever, what ac­tu­ally hap­pens on most lead­ing TV chan­nels is quite to the con­trary. There is a spate of ad­ver­tis­ing on al­most all these chan­nels, par­tic­u­larly at prime time, and in no case is an ad­ver­tis­ing break is restricted to 3 min­utes. An ad break on some of the more pop­u­lar news chan­nels some­times even ex­ceeds 15 min­utes. Most of the time, the du­ra­tion of ad­ver­tis­ing is far greater than the du­ra­tion of pro­gram­ming and what peo­ple get to see for the most part are ad­ver­tise­ments, most of which are re­peated over and over again. In some cases, ads take up al­most all the time and there is very left for the an­chor to say at the end. All that he or she does is thank the par­tic­i­pants and sign off. This goes to say a lot for the kind of bud­gets that ad­ver­tis­ing brands al­lo­cate to TV ad­ver­tis­ing in these times of high air time rates and money crunch­ing in print and other me­dia. It also speaks vol­umes for the im­por­tance of rep­e­ti­tion that ad­ver­tis­ers at­tach to their com­mer­cials and their ea­ger­ness to walk over each other to in­flu­ence the cus­tomer with their brand mes­sage. Per­haps they are obliv­i­ous to the fact that, af­ter some time, their mes­sage loses its nov­elty and view­ers are prone to reach for their TV re­mote to get some respite from the pound­ing that their brains are get­ting from one brand or the other.

In the midst of all this, it never oc­curs to PEMRA that one of its main rules per­tain­ing to ad­ver­tis­ing on TV chan­nels is be­ing flouted in such a bland man­ner and that no one is pay­ing heed to the au­di­ence’s en­ter­tain­ment needs. It ap­pears that most chan­nels sim­ply fo­cus on spew­ing out ad­ver­tise­ments only and the pro­gram­ming creeps into the fare merely as an ir­ri­tant. The fear is that if PEMRA con­tin­ues to ig­nore such mal­prac­tices, there will come a time when there won’t be any pro­gram­ming left on many chan­nels and all that is vis­i­ble would be TV com­mer­cials of all hues and va­ri­ety.

The PEMRA man­date, to start with, is very wise, no­ble and na­tion-friendly. It calls for Im­prove­ment of stan­dards of in­for­ma­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and en­ter­tain­ment in the coun­try through elec­tronic me­dia broad­casts, that is, TV and ra­dio. It re­quires for the en­large­ment of choices avail­able to the peo­ple in terms of news, cur­rent af­fairs, re­li­gious knowl­edge, art, cul­ture, science, tech­nol­ogy, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, so­cial sec­tor con­cerns, mu­sic, sports, drama and other in­ter­ests. PEMRA fur­ther wishes to fa­cil­i­tate the de­vo­lu­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity and power to the grass­roots by im­prov­ing the peo­ple’s ac­cess to the mass me­dia at the lo­cal and com­mu­nity level. Fur­ther­more, the Au­thor­ity also looks to en­sur­ing ac­count­abil­ity, trans­parency and good gov­er­nance by op­ti­miz­ing free flow of in­for­ma­tion.

How­ever, the ques­tion that goes a beg­ging since PEMRA was es­tab­lished in 2002 and the fact that it today over­sees no less than 100 sep­a­rate chan­nels is that how far has it suc­ceeded in de­liv­er­ing its man­date? A mil­i­tary ruler es­tab­lished PEMRA to lib­er­al­ize the coun­try’s me­dia land­scape. While the lib­er­al­iza­tion has hap­pened rather too in­tensely and the me­dia has en­joyed the fruits of free­dom in a man­ner that it had never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, it is a fact that the very same me­dia has gone out of the con­trol of PEMRA, con­sign­ing the lat­ter to the po­si­tion of a mere li­cenc­ing au­thor­ity. It is for this rea­son that lead­ing chan­nels do not pay any heed to the PEMRA rule that ‘in a reg­u­lar TV pro­gramme a con­tin­u­ous break for ad­ver­tis­ing should not ex­ceed 3 min­utes,’ and al­low all the time to be gob­bled up by ads. They sim­ply leave peo­ple won­der­ing when they will see some pro­gram­ming in the time left in-be­tween.

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