PEMRA and TV advertising
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.