Pakistan imports illegal Dish TV from India but refuses to rid itself of ancient cable operators?

Published: January 22, 2014
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DTH systems such as Reliance India, Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV provide digital television services directly to the end-users, that is, subscribers – thus eliminating the need for cable TV infrastructure.

DTH systems such as Reliance India, Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV provide digital television services directly to the end-users, that is, subscribers – thus eliminating the need for cable TV infrastructure. PHOTO: AFP DTH systems such as Reliance India, Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV provide digital television services directly to the end-users, that is, subscribers – thus eliminating the need for cable TV infrastructure.

How many of us have exclaimed with joy and literally hooted at the following sentence, at least once in their lifetime?

“Oh, great! Xyz channel aagaya!

 (Oh great! Xyz channel is available now!)

Honestly, I have seen this reaction every time a cable operator tunes in any channel which he had previously stopped running without any prior notice and schedule. I am sure any and every Pakistani has experienced this, whether they reside in the urban areas, suburbs or the unincorporated villages.

The sole cause of this problem is the existence of the TV cable industry, which we still have in use, while this technology has been replaced across the globe with Direct-to-Home (DTH) systems.

Now before you go rushing to Google what DTH is, let me remind you that you must have seen countless advertisements about DTH from across the border. Ever heard of Reliance India, Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV and so forth?

Yes, those are all DTH products. DTH systems provide digital television services directly to the end-users, that is, subscribers – thus eliminating the need for cable TV infrastructure.

However, the idea of choosing our own select list of channels is still a mere dream in our country. Imagine having the facility to subscribe to only your favourite channels! It would be like choosing dishes on an à la carte menu. Imagine making packages according to your demand, paying for only that which you want to see and having a plethora of other facilities such as parental controls, booking facilities, recording of your shows, Electronic Program Guide (EPG) and many other characteristics that have revolutionised the digital broadcast industry.

The question is, if half the globe has replaced the old cable operator industry with DTH then why is Pakistan still falling behind?

Does our nation suffer through technophobia?

Err, no.

I think Pakistanis, especially the youth, rank quite high when it comes to infotainment.

So, is it our government or is it the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)?

Having a journalistic background, I do have friends in the media and broadcast industry. At a get-together last Saturday at a local pizza joint with some of these friends, the topic of DTH emerged from nowhere and our table ended up becoming one of the noisiest in the entire place.

One friend who works for a leading newspaper stated that the Cable Operator Association of Pakistan (COAP) has a very strong lobby and they have made sure that DTH technology does not gain a stronghold in the country in order to maintain their own monopoly and profit in the industry. He said that the launch of DTH has been discussed on all platforms but the COAP lobby continues to fight for its postponement.

Hence, this cutting-edge technology is still neglected by the state authorities and PEMRA. Some other friends disagreed with him and this sparked my curiosity. Being an inquisitive person by nature, I decided to dig out the truth for myself instead of relying on other sources.

I called the PEMRA head office the very next day.

The head of Public Relations (PR) and Media Department who also happens to be the official spokesperson, refused to divulge his name but that did not really matter because the information he provided was of vital importance and also eliminated every fallacious and inaccurate view that I had.

He explained that contrary to popular belief, Pakistan was the pioneer in introducing DTH technology in South Asia.

I was shocked to hear this.

He went on to say,

“We initiated the project back in 2003. The biggest media giants of our country – ARY and Geo TV submitted the bids. But both these groups could not pursue the project due to the extensive working and enormous budget that it required. According to the law, the license would be withdrawn if it did not become operational within a year. Eventually the case went into court and now after 11 years, PEMRA has submitted the bid for which various companies have shown interest. Very soon some good news will emerge.”

In spite of his clarification, I am still not sure whom to believe – the PEMRA spokesperson or the others?

But in either case, we cannot and should not forget that once DTH is introduced, there will be a major change in our home entertainment. Also, I think that it is high time that our government should take DTH technology, and other technological advances like the 3G operating system, seriously, especially since it is already being run in our households illegally.

Dish TV (Indian DTH) setup boxes are imported through China and Dubai, and are sold in every city of Pakistan. Each illegal distributor is earning around US$20 million every month out of which 98% goes to India. Consequently a total of US$150 million is sent across the border without tax deduction.

Legal activation of DTH services in the country would mean an increase in job opportunities, tax generation and a decrease in the cultural war between the two countries, since using Indian DTH means that we are only able to view foreign content.

To encapsulate the entire discussion, I would say that introducing DTH in Pakistan is not just about advanced technology; it is about media war and illegal money. The government needs to take a serious action against not only the illegal Indian DTH service providers but also against local cable operators who are running foreign content and destroying our culture.

Saman Asif

Saman Asif

A marketing manager at a leading management consultancy firm, Saman also works as a freelance writer for various lifestyle magazines. She tweets as @s_as

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.