Interview with Mr. Shahzad Ahmad

“TV/ Satellite channels are spreading like jungle fire”

How would you define the meaning of e-Content in Pakistan?

Frankly, there is no real content development and usage of e-Content in Pakistan at the moment. There are products either for organizational or individual use. WSA Pakistan was also supposed to provide an inventory of e-Content in Pakistan but this could not happen due to various reasons. MoITT has now formed a National IT Think Tank on Content Development to which WSA Panel Expert is also a core member and hopefully will result in some good content generation and dissemination initiatives in the country

“In terms of content Pakistan lags behind a lot. Whatever content is there, mostly don’t know about it”

Which area of e-content (e-health, e-biz, e-culture, e-government, e-entertainment, e-learning, e-science, and e-inclusion) is best developed in Pakistan?

In terms of content Pakistan lags behind a lot. Whatever content is there, mostly don’t know about it. There is very little content in local languages. Quite a few regional languages are not developed enough to publish online content.
Which sector (business, private sector, government or civil society) in Pakistan is advanced in developing e-content?

I personally think that civil society organizations have relatively more e-content than any other sector in Pakistan. Due to various reasons they keep doing documentaries, research reports, case studies etc. to publish and share with wider audiences. Much of it may be due to donor pressure but one would still find useful content with them.

How would you describe the gradual progress of development of e-content in Pakistan?
There’s a long way to go. It is in its infancy.

What major initiatives have influenced the development of e-content in Pakistan?

The only initiative so far which raised the e-content issue in Pakistan was Sustainable Development Networking Programme Not only did it raise a voice for development, it also helped 260 organizations from all segments of society to publish their content. This was a capacity building effort.

They spread the implications of ICT, trained those interested and also offered free of charge domain name booking and hosting space to those who were interested in putting their website. Technical backstopping was also provided throughout Pakistan to actualize these websites. There was hardly some content on the web from Pakistan in 1994-1999 but this programme resulted in around 200 websites hosted on SDNP’s web servers. SDNP also advocated strongly for local language content. Separate trainings were held for the content in Urdu and Sindhi. In an effort Pakistan Development Gateway was also translated into Urdu.

What are the major bottlenecks in the path of e-content development in your country?

• Due importance is not yet given to e-content.
• Government efforts have centered on infrastructure development and content has been neglected so far.
• Pakistan still lacks sector specific content development initiatives (WSA expert has proposed one to MoITT).
• Lots of policy advocacy is required to help the content generation, deployment and dissemination e.g. CR policy etc.
• The WSIS premise of multi-stakeholder approach is hardly practiced in Pakistan.
• Content is developed in isolation for specific audiences. It is not useful in the larger perspective.
• Content helping students in research is a major issue. There is very little evidence of publishing research online.

In most countries, especially developing, e-content development is significantly dependent on ICT infrastructure and ICT facilities. But, in some, ICT has become pervasive and e-content development is primarily subjected to the initiatives of an individual/organization/government, etc. What is the situation in Pakistan?

One can rightfully claim that ICT infrastructure in Pakistan is the best in South Asia but Pakistan has a paradox in the lop-sided diffusion of ICTs.

From a mere 29 cities in August 2000, Internet is now available in virtually every city and town – almost every town – in the country. One can access Internet from all these places with a local call that is not metered. No doubt, there may still be some problems in connectivity and quality of service, but this marks, by far, the most extensive Internet coverage in South Asia.

The Internet bandwidth rates have been slashed down by about 20 times during the last few years making them the cheapest in the region. This has promoted a thriving ISP market though it has not grown according to the earlier projections for some reason.

In short, Pakistan has the most extensive Internet coverage in South Asia, and arguably the cheapest Internet rates. However, from the standpoint of real access, with need based and innovative applications that could make a difference to the lives of common people, especially those in the rural areas, there is hardly anything to show for. In terms of grass root ICTs projects – Pakistan has yet to present a good example that could be replicated – on a larger scale – in the country and elsewhere in the developing world. While it may come as a surprise, but in this respect, Pakistan lags behind even Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, not to say India, which can boast of dozens, if not hundreds, of such initiatives.

TV/Satellite channels are spreading like jungle fire. There are still some policy issues with TV channels and radio broadcasting but currently 39 TV channels and 80 FM Radios are now on air. Unfortunately, there is no policy on community radios. Efforts are underway to get hold of such policies as soon as possible. This will eventually result in local, need-based content for general public.

How would you describe the ICT scenario in your country in terms of infrastructure, penetration, and policies?

• Excellent infrastructure.
• Fast speed penetration among masses.
• Great acceptance particularly in educational, business and private sectors.
• Relatively friendly policies though quite a few need review, particularly the IT Policy and IT Action Plan.

What’s the future of e-content in Pakistan?

It has just begun. E-content in Pakistan is in its infancy but will scale the heights surely since the government has now realized the need and importance of this. The future is bright.

Which is the most preferred medium for e-content production in Pakistan?

It has to be Internet, TV and radio in remote areas. We plan to experiment with some useful content through mobile telephony but I don’t think there is very exciting potential here. However, Internet and TV content is very important as of now.

How do you recognize the best e-content practices in your country?

Unfortunately, e-content is a neglected field in Pakistan. There has never been a concerted effort to develop content in a manner so as to serve a specific sector or give solutions to certain problems. Whatever has developed so far has been through individual effort.

However, in the year 2004, with the selection of National WSA Panel Expert from Pakistan, the IUCN’s Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) and the World Summit Award in partnership with the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT), Government of Pakistan launched WSA in Pakistan. For this purpose a WSA National Committee was formed with following members:

1. Jehan Ara, President, Pakistan Software Houses Association
2. Saira Butt, Sr. Project Manager, Ministry of IT&T, Govt. of Pakistan
3. Zunaira Durrani, Content Specialist, Telenor Pakistan
4. Rabia Garib, Editor-in Chief, NETEXPRESS, Pakistan
5. Zubair Faisal Abbasi, Programme Officer, NCHD, Pakistan
6. Shahzad Ahmad, WSA e-Content Expert.

A national competition was held and the successful products were submitted to WSA Grand Jury. Please see National competition received 57 nominations. WSA Pakistan could not generate funds for advertising and MoITT also could not support as anticipated. So the news about WSA was only spread through electronic means and a few articles in newspapers. Hopefully, WSA will get more attention in future. A WSA Road Show will go a long way in achieving this.

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