Artists’ plight

A sad reflection of our failure as a society


It was heartening to read Pashto music legend Sardar Ali Takkar and Pakistani Sufi signer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan will be performing at the Nobel Prize ceremony. For these two international acknowledgements, there are many which are a sad reflection on the abyss and misery entertainment artists have fallen into over time.

There are so many examples of artists who have delighted millions of people with their talents but have lived in extreme poverty, and in many cases died in extreme poverty. Pakistan Press Foundation on its official website notes the deaths of Murtaza Hassan, better known as Mastana and Babbu Baral with the words that they died in abject poverty in their native districts. (July 29, 2011) Renowned artist Romana in her last days was seen begging at the Lahore Railway Station and city’s posh streets. Ustad Zakir Ali Khan, a pillar of Radio Pakistan, lived in abject poverty in the twilight of his life. His appeal made to newspapers for art councils as well as government to help went unheeded. Seraiki Singer Pathanay Khan, recipient of President’s Pride of Performance Award and well known for his majestic delivery of “Meda Ishq Vi Tu”, died in extreme poverty.

Many leading artists like Mehdi Hassan, Ali Ijaz, Roohi Bano and others faced extremely difficult financial circumstances. However, political personalities and government officials have tried on many occasions to help the legends but there has not been an organisation with a focused objective of helping these artists. Punjabi World on February 20, 2010 reported Abrar-ul-Haq having set up a state of the art hospital in Narowal. In 2011, Punjab government had set up a fund for the welfare of artists and to support the families of artists. An amount of Rs50 million was allocated for the purpose.

News report on artsfreedom (March 2, 2014) states and I reproduce, “Artists’ and singers’ families literally starve as they have no job and no security. Some have laid their hands on other jobs. We have walked up to so called high-ups responsible for promoting cultural activities but no avail,” Tariq Jamal, a senior TV actor and president of the artists’ organisation Awaz (Voice).

The question that rises in one’s mind is why in the first place the artists need a support fund at the cost of their dignity. Ideally, according to the status and years of contribution of the artists, they must be awarded a decent pension to live on. Not an apology for a pension. Additionally, free medical treatment at the best hospitals and visitation rights to leading medical specialists must be part of the package. Should the government offer scholarships to the children of the artists? These and other related issues need to be thought out and a plan drawn up to care for the assets that are our artists.

The intellectual property rights of artists must be recognised by the electronic media. PEMRA Ordinance Section 20 (g) prohibits to ‘broadcast or distribute any programme or advertisement in violation of copyright or other property right’.

Copyrights is defined as: “The right of literary property as recognised and sanctioned by positive law. An intangible, incorporeal right granted by statute to the author or originator of a certain literary or artistic productions, whereby he is invested for a specified period with the sole and exclusive privilege of multiplying copies of the same and publishing and selling them.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, page 336)

Property right is defined as: “A generic term which refers to any type of right to specific property whether it is personal or real property, tangible or intangible.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, page 1218)

Intellectual property is defined as: “Property (as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect; also an application, right, or registration relating to this. Any song that you write is your intellectual property.” (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary)

BBC Editorial policies 18.10.1 state: “Intellectual property rights include: Copyright, moral rights, performers’ rights, trademarks, patents and designs and rights to prevent “passing off” and breach of confidence.”

“Intellectual property lawyers in the Litigation and Intellectual Property Department (L&IP) give advice on the protection and exploitation of the BBC’s intellectual property rights and on the infringement risks to the BBC of using third parties’ intellectual property rights. Litigation lawyers in that department give advice on the infringement of intellectual property rights.

In case of a song by a local singer and played by a radio or/and TV channel, an agreed sum between the owner and the channel/radio station should be paid to owner of the intellectual property. The intellectual property will belong to the producer. In order to produce the song, he would have paid amounts to lyricist, musicians, cameraman, singer, et al. Sometimes, the singer himself can be the producer. The payment may be given to two people, producer and the singer known as ‘Shared Rights’. This may be a onetime payment but if a media house owns both a radio station and a TV channel or wishes to run the song on more than one TV channels owned, the sum paid may be higher. The TV/radio channel may buy property rights to the song in which case the producer cannot sell it to another channel/radio station.

Revised Section 20 (g) states: “Do not broadcast or distribute any programme or advertisement in violation of copyright, or other property right including intellectual property ownership without first entering into a contract with the owner of the said property.”

I do believe that we as a nation need to stop relegating our talent to the lowest rung of societal ladder. They must be acknowledged, celebrated and cherished.

American scholar Warren Bennis correctly observed, “There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish”

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

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