Thursday August 11, 2022

PTV Sports’ rights: PTI govt signed ‘illegal agreement’ with ARY: Marriyum

Marriyum said the previous government compromised PTV Sports’ rights by signing an illegal agreement with ARY in violation of the PPRA rules and awarded broadcasting rights of Pakistan Super League (PSL)

June 26, 2022
Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb addressing a press conference in Islamabad on June 25, 2022. Photo: PID
 Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb addressing a press conference in Islamabad on June 25, 2022. Photo: PID

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb Saturday claimed that the previous government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) compromised PTV Sports’ rights by signing an illegal agreement with its blue-eyed media group ARY in violation of the PPRA rules and awarded broadcasting rights of Pakistan Super League (PSL).

Addressing a press briefing here on Saturday, the federal minister for information and broadcasting said that after coming into power, the sitting government had two options. First, that she holds a press conference, level allegations, send the accused to jail and forget about it. The second option was to carry out a thorough in-house investigation and bring out the facts before the public. She chose the second option, she said.

“An Expression of Interest (EoI) for acquisition and dissemination rights was changed again and again to favor ARY Group during the PTI regime, adding that the agreement with ARY Group not only compromised legal procedures for the bid but also sacrificed PTV’s economic interest,” claimed the information minister.

After coming into power, the present government constituted a fact-finding committee. The terms and references (ToRs) of the committee were to investigate whether the agreement between ARY/ Group M and the PTV was in accordance with the rules and regulations or not. The committee was asked to determine whether codal formalities and relevant rules were observed in the business partnership between the PTV and ARY/ Group M or not.

“The PTV not only generates the revenues but also disseminates its transmission. The September 16 agreement signed between the PTV and ARY/ Group M violates both the rights of the state-run broadcaster. The contract between these two parties was itself illegal. The planning for this illegal agreement was made in advance. The PTV approached the Board of Directors (BoD) and informed them that they don’t have the money to acquire the rights and this has happened for the first time in the history of the state-run TV. The PTV Sports informed the BoD they neither have the money to acquire the rights nor for the required amount for dissemination purposes,” said Marriyum Aurangzeb.

On August 10, the PTV Sports published an expression of interest (EoI) for a public-private partnership in a newspaper. In this EoI, they mentioned the acquisition of rights and marketing of PTV Sports. But three days later, they realised that the EoI isn’t serving their plan. So they published an addendum. The addendum mentioned that they (PTV) want to revise the initial EoI. The revised EoI was published on August 13 in which the last date for submission of bids was extended till August 27.

The information minister said that in one addendum they said they want cable and satellite specialised sports broadcasters. “They also wanted to convert PTV Sports from SD to HD. They further added some ToRs which were different from the first EOI,” said the minister.

The minister explained that the bids were invited for August 27 and the next day, the bids were opened and four bids were received. An Evaluation Committee was formed.

Four companies including Group M, representing ARY, Blitz Advertisers, Tower Sports and Trade Chronicle submitted their bids but the last firm was disqualified on technical grounds. “Notices for expression of interest were changed at every stage”, the minister said.

“Bids were called under the plan and it also said PTV Sports needs expression of interest for getting HD from SD while an amendment says cable and satellite broadcasters are needed. This condition was not placed when ordering bids in the notice of interest expressed at the time of prerequisite for Ten Sports and ICC rights,” the minister said.

She said that the scrutiny committee made marking, according to which, Blitz Advertisers were given 182 points out of 300, followed by Group M-ARY with 167 points and Towers Sports was given 131 points. The committee put signatures on the marking and letters were issued, carrying signatures of director sports, director finance, director engineering, chief commercial officer and director personnel.

It was mentioned in the letter, she pointed out, that Blitz Advertisers had got maximum points and had given a better partnership deal; however, before an agreement with it, certain things will be thrashed out. After that, a letter is sent to MD PTV Amir Manzoor on August 28 that two out of three companies have been selected and that the committee is saying that it wants to have further talks with them, whereas the committee had not said this at all, informed the minister.

The committee, she noted, issued a letter to Blitz Advertisers for securing maximum marks while it had already a partnership with PTV in a project in the past. However, on September 01, talks were again started in which a plan was made to turn the failed company into a successful one and in which marks, terms were changed and remarking was done. She continued to make the company their own choice a successful bidder, it was said that PPRA rules don’t apply to this.

The minister said that while the committee had called for negotiations with the successful company but through remarking. The favorite company was selected and in remarking, total marks were increased to 350, and this was done to give 83 marks out of 50 the blue-eyed one. And, hence, putting aside the successful company in the bid, the favorite ARY/ Group M was rewarded.

In the past whenever the PTV had to go for the acquisition of rights or dissemination, it sought exemption from the PPRA. The same exercise was done in 2011 and 2015. But this time when the EoI was published by the PTV, it sought no exemption from the PPRA. Whereas, the board was informed that they have obtained the legal view for this EoI. It is astonishing that the legal view was taken from an external law firm rather than the PTV’s own legal department.

Surprisingly, when the EoI was published the main criterion in the addendum of the EOI was that the party should be the satellite broadcaster. Just two days before the broadcasting agreement was signed, the Pemra issued a Sports licence.

One of the conditions of EOI as of September 14 was that the successful bidder should be a satellite broadcaster and it should have at least two months test transmission in the Pemra. But none of the conditions mentioned in EoI was met while awarding the contract.

Apart from the information minister, the Transparency International earlier had also highlighted several irregularities and pointed out the issues which clearly violate the PPRA rules. However, the cricket board has ignored these points and awarded the broadcasting rights to PTV-ARY consortium. Later, the new government constituted a fact finding committee to ascertain the irregularities in the awarding of PSL broadcasting rights contract to PTV-ARY consortium.

It may be mentioned that the PTV and ARY were reluctant to share the content of the contract with the Lahore High Court (LHC) single bench for not being transparent.

Now the case is being heard by an LHC Division Bench.

Marriyum regretted that the PTI government which claimed to modernise the broadcasting world, not only put the state institutions into economic crisis but they also destroyed the existing stature of PTV and other institutions.

However, she made it clear that justice will be done and PTV will get its due rights during her tenure as the matter has been referred to the FIA to initiate an inquiry against the involved persons.

“PTV is the voice of the national broadcaster and the State and it is Pakistan’s national identity, which also led to the birth of the rest of the broadcasters, the people of Pakistan get media news,” she noted.

The minister emphasised that the media is the fourth pillar of the state while PTV Sports is the only screen from which PTV revenue is generated and people of Pakistan pay Rs35 to PTV for licence fee, and the state-run TV meets its tributes from these sources of income.

“Imran Khan attacked the institution in the 2014 sit-in and congratulated each other. Imran congratulated his team and his workers at the time,” she recalled.

When the PTI government came to power in 2018, she said, they made false promises of 10 million jobs and five million houses and that PTV and radio be made smart national broadcasters on the BBC model while on the contrary, the PTI regime tried to auction radio and PTV buildings.

However, she continued, “When our government came in April 2022, we came to know that PTV Sports had signed an agreement with Group M and ARY for the rights of cricket. I had an easy way to immediately hold press talk and blame and put them in jails and forget them”.

“The PTV is suffering today for what happened to it in the previous era. Therefore, in April 2022, we set up a fact-finding committee. Agreement signed with PTV and M Group ARY. Under the deal, PTV Sports acquires cricket rights. Till September 16, 2021, these rights were with the PTV Sports channel. PTV Sports receives revenue in the same way and shows cricket to the public. But on September 16, an agreement was signed and these rights were compromised. The deal robbed the cricket rights of PTV Sports.

PTV Sports, she continued, did not have the money to acquire rights. “This is the first time in PTV history that we don’t have money for professional management. The PTV is the institution whose 100% share is owned by the Government of Pakistan. PTV Sports went to the PTV board and said we are devastated,” she noted.

She said that the financial murder of PTV was committed by the previous regime to benefit another news channel in exchange for promoting and projecting its narrative.

Marriyum said that when the Group M disclosed that it had no expertise in HD, the PTV gave a bid for provision of equipment wherein three firms took part. However, surprisingly a fourth firm Infinite Vendor was nominated by PTV for provision of equipment to Group M for inward provision to PTV Sports. The PTV provided a list of 49 items needed for conversion to HD format, but the items provided by Infinite Vendor were obsolete and useless.

According to the agreement, the first phase of upgradation of PTV Sports to HD was to be completed by January 2022 and the second one by June 30. But so far only a few pirated cameras and other equipment were handed over to the PTV Sports which do not match the list provided by the PTV Sports management.

The minister regretted that in 2018, the growing economy was also badly destroyed by PTI regime.

“FIA has already launched an inquiry into the serious breach that robbed the national exchequer by billions of rupees. FIA has already completed the initial inquiry and has started an inquiry of all those officials involved in the gross breach. Inquiry has also been launched as to who initiated the paperwork. How many people were there when such an activity was carried out? The inquiry into the PTV Board involvement has also started. We have already transferred all those who we have believed had any hand in reaching the deal. We assured you that justice will be done. All those involved in such a crime will be taken to task. When the negotiation process started, PTV Board was not taken in confidence about the remarking. The evaluation committee says that they were told through a letter time and again that the renegotiation process has started. Marking and evaluation system kept on changing each day. Former PM Imran Khan, Fawad Ch, PTV MD and director sports were hand in glove in making sure that the blue-eyed channel gets the rights.” ARY TV channel, meanwhile, denied all allegations and said nothing illegal has been done