26. The Commission recommends that aspects covered by TOR No. G be brought to the attention of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and the Standing Committees of the National Assembly and the Senate on Information & Broadcasting to recommend improvements in relevant policies and procedures so that the positive goals indicated in TOR No. G is achieved.
27. In order to conclusively establish the truth or the falsehood of allegations and accusations about corrupt practices in selection of advertising agencies and media for Government-controlled advertising and in view of the scale and frequency with which a particular advertising group is stated to be the undue beneficiary, the Commission is of the opinion that, if the Hon’ble Court deems appropriate, the required directions may be given to conduct an authentically impartial, independent inquiry by a relevant authority such as NAB to determine the veracity, or otherwise of allegations.
28. With regard to TOR No.H i.e. the need for a single, transparent, objective, non-discriminatory policy for allocation of Government advertisements among electronic and print media: the Commission took careful note of the valuable suggestions and comments made by all the individuals and organizations with which it interacted.
29. The Commission is of the view that the formulation of a formal, written policy is the right and responsibility of the elected Government-of-the-day while being cognizant of public discourse on the subject, the views of all stakeholders, the views of civil society including non-stakeholders and, hopefully, the Findings, Observations and Recommendations contained in both Part-One and Part-Two of this Report by the Media Commission submitted to the Hon’ble Court.
30. Nevertheless, it is pertinent for the Commission to identify the following elements that should, in the Commission’s view, be the determinant factors for a new policy that is singular rather than multiplistic, transparent rather than opaque, objective rather than subjective, fair rather than discriminatory.
31. These determinant factors for a new policy as required by TOR No.H are:
(i) Decentralization: This factor would require a fundamental, radical reversal of the centralization which began in 1950 and which was reinforced thereafter for the past six decades. But if the State and the society have taken the decision through Parliament, as they did in 2010, to adopt the 18th Amendment and abolish the Concurrent Legislative List in order to strengthen the Provinces and the Federation, then the factor of decentralization should be applied both horizontally and vertically with regard to how Government-controlled advertising is allocated and how advertising agencies are selected. This factor would require that each Government entity be enabled to select print and electronic media for placement of its advertising as per its own autonomous decision-making process and requirements while remaining subject to accountability and equity.
(ii) Guidelines by the Federal Government: In place of the operational control exercised in the past and in the present by the Press Information Department and the Provincial Information Departments, Guidelines should be issued by the Federal Government to help make the practice of decentralization a stable, even-handed and reliable process. Such proposed guidelines would make it mandatory for each Government entity, be it a Ministry or a corporation to ensure that the selection of the advertising agencies and the selection of print and electronic media are made on the basis of principles of merit, relevance, reasonable costs, fair opportunity for all those eligible to compete for the contracts to have equal preparatory notice and time, with a fair system of evaluation and selection. Such guidelines would include due emphasis on determining the authenticity of circulation or size of audience claimed by media through independent, professional, credible means. One mandatory guideline could be the need to ensure that a minimum reasonable share of advertising expenditure by Government entities is allocated to regional media while ensuring that the definition of what media constitute regional media, both print and electronic, is credible and verifiable.
(iii) Comprehensive, multi-media policy: Whereas the policy to date has dealt only with print media, any new policy should be multi-media and also cover the new emerging digital media and social media on the Internet. The experience of several countries in this realm will serve as a relevant source of reference for this particular factor.
(iv) Monitoring without controlling: Whereas throughout Pakistan’s history, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting through the Press Information Department has rigidly controlled all aspects of advertising by the Government, the proposed new policy should enable the Federal Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Provincial Departments of Information to conduct accurate monitoring without controlling the process. By itself, the function of monitoring the placement of Government advertising in media would meet a basic need for detached observance and impartial institutional evaluation of the process.
31. With regard to TOR No. I: as stated earlier, in the sections dealing with TOR No. G, on the face of it, all Federal and Provincial Government entities claim to adhere to the Principles and Guidelines on which Public Procurement Regulatory Authority Rules are based. Where PPRA Rules directly apply to them, Government entities claim that they abide by the same.
The Central Advertisement Policy practiced by the Press Information Department of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is cited as an example of how, in a formal, declared manner, the principles of fairness, transparency and accountability are ensured in the selection of advertising agencies and of print media. However, as per the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002, the scope of scrutiny by PPRA covers only contracts of Rs.50 million and more. Whereas the predominant practice of virtually all Federal Government and Provincial Government entities is to conduct advertising in segments and phases that do not exceed Rs.50 million at any one stage. For instance, even where the total advertising budget of a Government entity may be more than Rs.50 million per year, the tendency is to select advertising agencies and media for campaigns whose costs in phases normally do not exceed Rs.50 million. Once a particular segment of advertising is completed, costing under Rs.50 million, the process of the next segment is initiated and here too, as the total outlay is normally below Rs.50 million, the PPRA Rules do not become applicable. Further, the tendency is to divide the expenditure on advertising between more than two or three advertising agencies whereby a single contract remains under the level of Rs.50 million per contract.
32. While the Commission did meet with senior representatives of three major government entities which are principal advertisers in print media i.e. PIA, PSO and Benazir Income Support Programme, the Commission could not meet in person with the Chairman or Managing Director of PPRA itself.
Nevertheless, a communication by email was addressed to the Managing Director of PPRA on 21St May, 2013 (copy of the said email is at Annexure-17). The reply whereof received from PPRA is also placed at Annexure-17.
33. Findings, Observations and Recommendations by the Commission on TOR No.A, F, G, & H in the preceding section of this Report aim to fulfill the last part of TOR No.I i.e. “….. To suggest processes which are fair and transparent and which ensure the greatest value and fairest dissemination of information”. For instance, the proposed restructuring of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) and the Press Information Department (PID), the introduction of decentralization by enabling each Government entity to determine the selection of media and advertising agencies by its own autonomous process working within guidelines defined by the Government etc.