Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On dream of owning a private TV channel

As I See It Column
The Independent, October 20, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

For all of us who studied in Dhaka University to earn a degree in the social sciences or the humanities in the 1960s, the dream job was to join the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) or the Pakistan Foreign Service (PFS) or any of the Central Class One services. My dream too was to take the CSS Examination and enter one of these central government services. The jobs paid enough for a young man to have a decent life and social prestige. In fact if anyone made to the CSP or the PFS cadres, he did not just gain a decent job but became instantly the most eligible bachelor around. 

The government services no longer pay enough. The prestige that went to the central services of Pakistan days became matters of distant past almost immediately after our independence. In the three years I worked in a leading private bank and sat on the bank’s recruiting team, I was at first surprised and then frustrated at the perception of those coming out of the university these days about government service. They pitied those who joined government service. Many who I interviewed were engineers , a lot of them coming out of BUET with first class degrees, who all studied BBA and MBA after their BUET degrees to join the private banks! When we went to the university, no one who was even average academically, would join a bank even if one was offered to him on a silver platter. 

This rush towards a career in the bank among the youth leaving all else is beginning to affect the future of the country. In a study conducted recently, it has been revealed that these days, students are showing little inclination to study the science subjects in the university. In fact, it is now the dream of most of the students going to the university to study for a BBA and an MBA and join a private bank. If not already, we would soon have a country of bankers or university graduates all seeking jobs in the private banks! There is no doubt that the banking sector is an important one but this one track pursuit of a dream of a job in the private bank cannot be the signs of a healthy country.

Nevertheless, making  to the top level of the management in anyone of the 50 or more private banks in the country gives one a life style immensely better than that of a secretary to the government if   the latter is honest. Compared to Taka 40,000 a Secretary is paid, a Managing Director of a private bank is paid 15 to 20 times more. The differences in perks are also significant. But a banking job is monotonous and requires making many other concessions that we who joined services when the services carried prestige did not have to make. For instance, the private banks unless they are politically connected, literally shiver at the authority of the Bangladesh Bank whose officials even at the low levels liberally use their regulatory power to pull these banks by their ears and for personal advantages galore! 

Hence, the pay or the perks of the bankers never made a banking job seem worthwhile to me. However these days, I would like to dream that if I had a second chance, I would go into business to earn enough money to own a private television channel or perhaps an owner-editor of a newspaper. When we had just one TV channel, the official BTV, it was in such high demand of the President and the Prime Minister, that many people detested watching it. During Ershad’s long stint in power in the 1980s, he monopolized the news programmes where a major part of the time for telecasts was reserved to show him on the TV screen. He was the butt of sarcastic jokes for his love to see himself on the small screen. His love for the small screen also reflected a narcissist mindset.

HM Ershad was the President and despite the jokes, there was very good reason for him to appear in the national news and news programmes. In fact, whatever he did as President deserved to be a subject of a news programme on a TV channel and hence if he monopolized the news programmes, he was entitled to do so. These days, with an unusually large number of private channels and with no one inclined to waste his/her time watching BTV, the head of government, unfortunately for her, does not have the sort of exposure on the private TV channels as President Ershad took for granted on the BTV where he was also able to impose his narcissist mindset upon the people who had no choice but to watch him.  

In fact, a major competition for a head of government these days for TV coverage is coming from those who own the TV channels. Just recently, a private TV station distributed computers to its correspondent in the district level. The TV devoted a good part of its national news to this event and its Managing Director gave a self-glorifying speech on this computer distribution! He competed with the Prime Minister who was in New York and out distanced her on the time devoted to his event as compared to hers. No wonder the Prime Minister was unable to keep her contempt for these TV stations and her Information Minister has asked TV journalists to “follow protocol” to cover PM’s news! 

One private TV channel in particular is now into many events of social/entertainment nature as a “media partner” of those who organize these events. The channel on its own also organizes many such events. In these events, its Managing Director and his colleagues are regularly cutting ribbons or delivering speeches related to these events at home and abroad. These ribbon cutting or opening ceremonies then become “national” news and receive liberal coverage in their TV stations. No one in this station ever asks himself one simple question which is if their ribbon cutting or opening ceremonies are such important national events, why it is in the other TV stations; these events are not even mentioned? 

The case of one TV station is strange and mysterious that sets it apart from all other private TV stations. The Managing Director of this channel  openly uses his station to promote himself and in the process has become controversial where he does not even realize his own station in life and thinks it fit to question the Prime Minister! To believe in his TV station, one has to believe that he is a “friend, philosopher and guide!” to the people of Bangladesh. The fact is, if you take away his TV station away from him, and he still does all his “great” work, no would know about any of it because there is no reason to do so.

The TV stations and their owners manifest what is the problem with us Bangladeshis. We have no sense of proportion. When we head any organization and that organization becomes powerful, we cannot help using it for personal gratification. Our political leaders when they reach the top do it; the big private sector companies do it and the private TV stations are no exception. The problem is when the private persons use the public media to project themselves the way they do it in Bangladesh and do not know their limits, then they project a shamelessness that does not do credit to our society. Can laws be enacted to keep some insensible owners of private TV channel owners in rein?  I am not so sure but the time has come to ask for it as a suffering public. But one thing is sure that  though I sometimes dream of owning a private TV channel; when I wake up I let that dream  vanish into thin air for I would not ever like to project myself shamelessly. No sensible person should.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan


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