I remember when Patari first hit the scene. Everyone was so excited at the idea of a Pakistani Spotify. The biggest collection of Pakistani music. Patari was hailed as the next big thing in music, and it was for a while. However, a few years down the line, Patari’s image may be beyond repair. We all rooted for Patari, and in a way, we still kind of do.
Initially conceived as a television drama streaming portral, Patari was launched in February 2015 in a beta version. With a collection of 20,000 songs and 600 artists and was accessible only through invites and later by registration, which led to an increase in access across Pakistan. Over time Patari became one of 2015’s biggest success stories, and a music industry game changer. Like other digital platforms, Patari creates a direct link to between artist and consumer, allowing for a space for musicians to put their work up.
Later that year, Patari announced it was making enough money to pay back their artists in royalties. While the number of artistes expected to be paid is likely to be in hundreds, according to then CEO Khalid Bajwa, the total payout amount nears Rs1.25 million. Unwilling to get carried away with this achievement, Bajwa described it as the first step in a long journey. And what a journey it would be.
After years of success, everything changed in 2018. On April 11, two women came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Khalid Bajwa, the CEO. They claimed that Bajwa sent them sexually inappropriate messages, involving women and their feet. It was also alleged that he used his position of power at Patari and offered unreleased music in return for sexual advances.
Patari responded swiftly and appropriately published a
statement which revealed that Bajwa was to resign due to the said sexual
harassment allegations. Patari COO Ahmer Naqvi was brought in as the new CEO.
And Patari seemed like one of the few companies that knew how to handle sexual harassment
claims. Unfortunately we were wrong.
On July 1 of the same year, Ahmer Naqvi took to Twitter and
Facebook to announce his resignation, along with the resignation of five other
Patari employees. Naqvi claimed that despite being removed from the company,
Bajwa was still working on behalf of Patari, causing further damage to the
company’s image, and also making Patari employees responsible for his behavior.
This led to an investor, Rabeel Warraich, stepping in as CEO, which is never a
good sign. Patari’s responded again quickly.
They blamed a
thorough investigation as the reason for such a long time for their decision on
Khalid Bajwa. However their troubles wouldn’t end here.
Just two days later, Dawn reported that evidence had emerged which showed singer and actor Ali Zafar trying to undermine Meesha Shafi’s brother, Faris Shafi’s career.
A screenshot, which was leaked anonymously, showed Patari officials ordering Faris Shafi and Ali Sethi’s new song to be removed from Patari’s ‘new releases’ section, as “Ali has an issue with it and sees Patari as supporting Meesha.” I hope you all see the “was done” part of the conversation.
This isn’t the best look for a company that already has an
alleged harasser in a position of power. It creates an image of a group of harassers,
trying to cover up for each other while still remaining in power. Having two
alleged harassers show influence over the company created a stain over the image
that still haunts the company. And for good reason.
When Patari came out, one of the reasons it was hailed as
such a game changer is by paying its musicians. However, by 8 April 2019, Patari’s
latest scandal would show the damage to the streaming service. Irfan Ali Taj
called out Patari for not paying their artists their dues. This led to a number
of different bands and musicians calling out the company for not paying them
for their music. Some even went so far to say that they did not even take
permission to put their music up.
Patari’s response showed how much the company has been
struggling since the Khalid Bajwa scandal broke out. They released a statement saying,
“Unfortunately, the state of our music industry and the relative newness of
streaming in Pakistan means that there are some quarters where we have made no
revenues on our streaming platform at all. To add to that cash flow is severely
restricted when brands take an inordinate amount of time to release payments –
sometimes this has been well over 12-18 months. So delays, if any, have been
beyond our control.”
Change is important. The ability to make mistakes and learn is
important. Patari has had a rough road, but it can turn it around. As the
biggest collection of Pakistani music ever to exist, it has become a platform
that can curate, discover and promote local talent. However, it needs to get it’s
sh#% together. Even with such big stains on its image, Patari is still functioning.
The reason is that people want platforms like this. Furthermore, Patari needs
to be more understanding about sexual harassment. Putting out the right statement
is not enough, you need to be able to pull through with what you’re saying.
Only time will tell if Patari will be able to service the storm, or will more
potential be lost because of mismanagement.