MARIAM ALI BAIG: The Government of Pakistan has just announced a 15% increase in government advertising rates for print after a lapse of five years; why only 15%?
RAO TEHSIN ALI KHAN: Thousands and thousands of people are associated with the media industry. The Government, the Ministry of Information and the Press Information Department (PID) are directly associated with this industry and working for its betterment. Advertisements are the main source of income for the print and electronic media and the Government must ensure that the health of the media is not compromised, which is why time and again we keep giving these ‘health injections’ in the shape of 15% rate increases. Like all other industries when the media weakens in some area, they ask the government to give them support, which the government does in different forms. The same applies to the media.
MAB: Why should media be subsidised by the Government?
RTAK: Why not?
MAB: With the exception of the Government, media decide what their rates should be and when or not to increase them.
RTAK: All over the world newspapers are supported by advertising. For regional papers their lifeline is government advertising. In terms of the mainstream papers, most of their earnings come from the corporate sector.
MAB: The point is that rate increases should be decided by the media houses themselves.
RTAK: Nevertheless, the Government does support the industry. For example, many years ago, the Government gave Rs 300 million to the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) in order to support the industry.
MAB: That would be a separate issue from advertising rates?
RTAK: No, it is a way; in the same way we give display ads in order to strengthen the industry.
MAB: Surely that is not the only objective for releasing government advertising?
RTAK: The main objectives are to ensure the transparency of public sector projects, create awareness about them and provide support to the media. On the subject of public sector projects, let me clarify that in most countries around the world, (including the US and the UK) the norm is that the cost of advertising on such projects should be to the tune of three to five percent of the overall cost of the total number of public projects undertaken in a year; in Pakistan it is only two percent – which is considerably lower.
RTAK: Because otherwise we would be accused by the opposition parties of giving too many advertisements to the media in order to bring them into our laps – which is not true. In 2013, public sector development projects totalled Rs 500 million, last year they totalled 600 and this year they will be Rs 700 million, bringing the total accumulated amount over the last three years to Rs 1.8 billion. The total cost of the advertised amount was only two percent of Rs 1.8 billion; imagine if we had taken the percentage to three or five percent, which is the norm elsewhere. If we inject this much money in the industry, see how it will flourish. The general well-being of journalists and their prosperity will increase and social welfare will go up.
MAB: PID does not always release ads to APNS-accredited publications. Why is this so?
RTAK: They should be APNS accredited, but there are other publications as well. The Government of Pakistan, via PID and the Ministry of Information Broadcasting & National Heritage is duty bound to facilitate and encourage local newspapers and regional dailies in regional languages. There are nearly 1,612 newspapers at the moment on the Central Media List (CML) and the Government determines their advertisement rates through a specialised mechanism with the Audit Bureau of Circulation. We have also recently removed 516 dummy newspapers from the CML. However, of the remaining publications, only about 300 are APNS accredited and we have asked the others to become members. The problem is that APNS say those publications do not meet their criteria and so cannot become members. Many of these publications have formed their own association called RIBJA – Rawalpindi Islamabad Bureaus Journalists Association. They have about 1,600 to 1,800 members.
MAB: Is it your policy to release advertising through APNS accredited agencies only?
RTAK: Yes, that is the policy, but five to seven percent of the ads go to RIBJA members. Twenty five percent is the quota assigned to the regional papers and out of this we also give ads to APNS member publications.
MAB: Why are ad spend recoveries an issue? Would it not be possible to streamline this so that agencies and publications get paid on time?
RTAK: Members of APNS do not face any problems because payments are made through APNS.
MAB: Yet they maintain recoveries are an issue.
RTAK: Recoveries are done by the advertising agencies. I don’t think this is too much of an issue because the sword of suspension is always there.
MAB: If you appoint a non-accredited advertising agency, then you cannot suspend them.
RTAK: It is a mandatory requirement for them to be on-board with APNS. APNS have a very good system for recoveries. There may be a delay of one month, two or three months, but it is not a major problem. We meet with APNS and the advertising agencies every two to three months to discuss issues and this is not such a major problem. However, as I mentioned earlier, the non-APNS accredited newspapers have created this body called RIBJA. Also, please note that recoveries are not the sole domain of the PID or the Ministry of Information. For instance, if a campaign has been initiated by the Planning Commission, they are then responsible to have that budget allocated. In fact, PID facilitates payment.
MAB: Which sectors will be the biggest spenders this year?
RTAK: The first is Water & Power, second is CPEC (Planning and Commission), third is Census and fourth is NHA (National Highway Authority). These are big departments that have a big infrastructure. These are the main display advertisers, or in your terms, categories.
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