Understanding the volatility of operating environment and business complexities in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are becoming increasingly necessary in light of the growing inter-dependence beyond boundaries.
As Javed Jabbar, Chairman & Chief Executive, JJ Media and former Federal Minister, Pakistan, put it, countries are societies before they are markets, each very distinct from the other. He added, “It’s important to see society as a collection of human beings. I’ve tried to avoid use of the word ‘consumer’. When you look at societies in Pakistan and India, it’s a complex bilateral relationship; no two nations have shared so much history and yet are so different; and there is a total lack of awareness of each other.”
What exist are “proximate presumptions” about Pakistan as a country of fanatics, where terrorism flourishes and nuclear weapons are used. He lamented the fact that news media has played a pivotal role in this lack of awareness. In reality, Pakistan is a vibrant, throbbing, productive country, a far cry from The Economist’s description of “most dangerous country in the world”. “How does media thrive and grow in this environment,” Jabbar asked.
New technology has been ushering in several changes in the society. Paradoxically with the assault of modernisation there has emerged an urge to “rediscover roots”. Jabbar called it a “strange amalagum”. He observed that while literacy level is not more than 50 per cent, but there’s something called audio and phonetic literacy, which makes people recognise and know the Coca Cola logo without reading the letters. “We’re living through partial globalisation,” he said.
Taking stakeholders into account, Jabbar noted that readers want more selectivity and relevance; on the other hand, he called advertisers “aggressive intruders with a voracious appetite for ad space”. From the advertisers’ point of view, they are having a “field day” – big corporate such as Nestle, P&G, Unilever and so on, have been showing a growth rate of 20-30 per cent every year. “It’s a sign of a parallel economy, a parallel FMCG economy,” he added.
In the 65 years of shared existence with India, the first four decades had seen Pakistan’s growth ahead of India’s; however, in the last 20 years, the reverse has happened. Pakistan’s economy has been growing at a paltry 2.5-2.8 per cent, he said.
Recalling his term as Federal Minister in the Pervez Musharraf cabinet, when private electronic media was introduced in Pakistan, Jabbar stated that there were 106 channels, over 60 FM radio channels and a media landscape that was “thriving and virile” with broadband access, with 20 million Internet users, even in the villages.
As far as ad growth is concerned, statistics reveal that in Pakistan too TV has surged ahead of print. TV has grown by 600 per cent, print by 200 per cent, and other media by 300 per cent. The overall ad spend in Pakistan stands at Rs 3,300 crore, of which TV’s share is Rs 2,000 crore and print’s share is Rs 730 crore.
According to Jabbar, media’s primary role has to be “social”, because news content is different from any other – it changes attitudes, creates awareness about neighbours, society, country. He further said that profit should not become greed, and called for more transparency in cross media ownership.
Javed Jabbar was expressing his views at the 6th International News Media Association (INMA) South Asia conference, held in New Delhi on August 7 and 8, 2012.