Pakistan Media and Telecoms Landscape Guide

Reports & Surveys

Infoasaid produced this media landscape guide about Pakistan in June 2012.

Media overview

  • Pakistan’s media is flourishing. Many of the privately owned media groups command big radio, TV and newspaper audiences and are highly profitable.
  • Television has become the main source of news and information for people in Pakistan’s towns, cities and large areas of the countryside.
  • Generally speaking, where television is available, Pakistanis prefer TV to radio as a source of information.
  • However, much of the rural population continues to rely heavily on radio.
  • So, too, do millions of Pakistanis who live in zones of conflict near the Afghan border. Many of the armed fundamentalist Islamist groups that operate there disapprove of television on religious grounds.
  • Young urbanites are increasingly tuning in to FM stations for music and entertainment on their mobile phones.

The limits to media freedom

  • The standard of Pakistani journalism is very uneven.
  • Some media outlets publish well-researched, even-handed reporting.
  • Others easily fall prey to unsubstantiated rumour and external pressure.
  • The media also remains dogged by censorship, intimidation, a harsh regulatory regime and corruption.
  • Several journalists are killed each year in the course of their work, mostly by armed groups linked to political factions.
  • According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), seven journalists were killed in 2011, making Pakistan the most deadly country in the world for working journalists for the second year in a row.
  • Pakistan ranked 151st out of 178 countries, in the 2011 Press Freedom Index of the organization Reporters without Borders.
  • The government exercised a monopoly over radio and television until 2002.
  • When the liberalisation of ownership eventually took place, it did so under military rule, in an atmosphere of tight control over media freedom.
  • As a result, private radio and TV stations were restricted in the content that they could broadcast, and the channels of distribution they could use.
  • The government limited the range of private FM stations to 50 km, making it difficult for city-based stations to reach remote rural audiences.
  • The government also forbade private radio stations to produce their own news programmes, forcing them to relay news bulletins from the state-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) instead.
  • It also forbade private TV channels to broadcast free to air from terrestrial transmitters. They may only broadcast by cable and satellite.
  • As a result, state-run Pakistan Television (PTV), which does use terrestrial transmission, has perpetuated its domination of rural TV audiences.
  • Despite the liberalisation of media ownership, the broadcasting of all news and information remained subject to tight state control.
  • In November 2007, General Pervez Musharraf, the military head of state at the time, declared a state of emergency. He sacked the Supreme Court, and all private television and radio stations were temporarily switched off.
  • Meanwhile, the state broadcasters remained on air, putting out official government statements.
  • Harsh censorship was imposed upon all media shortly afterwards.
  • Despite such restrictions, the competition for audiences, created by the diversity of media ownership, has helped to push back the boundaries of press freedom.
  • By mid-2012, about 115 privately owned commercial FM radio stations were on air across Pakistan.
  • Most of them churn out a steady diet of music and phone-in programmes. Many generate strong revenue streams from advertising.
  • By mid-2012, there were also about 25 campus radio stations linked to universities across the country.
  • More than 90 privately owned TV stations were broadcasting by satellite and cable.
  • Many of them command higher audiences than state-run PTV in the areas they reach.
  • Several private TV channels, such as Geo News, Dawn News and Express News, exclusively broadcast news and current affairs programming.  
  • Some experts believe that Pakistan’s media sector is suffering from too-rapid growth and that standards of professional news reporting have suffered as a result.
  • Subservience to official policy is reinforced by a system that awards cash prizes to selected writers and journalists, allocates government positions to selected members of the press, and even provides coveted housing plots to journalists who toe the line.
  • A 2010 European Union-financed study of the media and governance in Pakistan said various interest groups, particularly the military, have found “a vast array of naïve and for-sale journalists ready to produce or reproduce stories according to the dictates of their customers”.

Radio facts:

  • Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), which runs the state radio network, retains an official monopoly on broadcasting national and international radio news. It covers the entire country on FM, medium and short wave.
  • Private radio stations are allowed to relay the news bulletins and programmes of PBC and, to a limited extent, the BBC Urdu service and Voice of America (VOA).
  • Private FM stations are not allowed to produce and broadcast their own national and international news under the terms of their radio license, although this restriction is sometimes ignored. Some private stations are allowed to broadcast local news.
  • The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), limits the transmitter strength of private FM stations. They are allowed a maximum broadcast coverage radius of 50 km.
  • Private radio has almost no penetration in rural areas.
  • State-run PBC retains a virtual monopoly of rural radio audiences.

Television facts:

  • The government-run Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), retains a monopoly of free-to-air terrestrial broadcasting.
  • Private TV channels are only allowed to broadcast on cable, satellite and the internet.
  • Marketing research company Gallup Pakistan, estimated there were 86 million TV viewers in Pakistan in 2009. Of these, 48 million - more than half, were terrestrial viewers who could only receive PTV channels.
  • There are at least five Islamic religious TV channels, including the popular private channel Quran TV.

Pakistan’s powerful media groups

  • There is considerable cross-media ownership between newspapers, and radio and television stations.
  • Major large circulation daily newspapers exercise wide influence on public opinion, from within large media groups that also include radio and TV stations.
  • Many of Pakistan’s newspapers were founded by journalists with a political and nationalist agenda.
  • However, the liberalisation of broadcasting in 2002, led to a wave of investment in the media by businessmen with a straightforward commercial interest.
  • The new FM radio stations have proved particularly profitable. Their opening coincided with a period of rapid economic growth, that brought with it a boom in advertising.

The three largest private media groups are:

  • Jang Group owns Geo TV, Pakistan’s most popular private television network, along with a stable of newspapers and magazines. These include Daily Jang, Pakistan’s top-selling daily newspaper, Daily Awam, Daily Awaz, Daily Waqt, The News and The Pakistan Times.
  • Dawn Media Group - This media group grew from the English-language Dawn Newspaper, founded in 1947 by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the political leader responsible for Pakistan’s creation as an independent Muslim state. Dawn is one of the largest and most influential English language daily newspapers in Pakistan. It remains a cornerstone of the Dawn Media Group, which also own Dawn News TV and the City FM 89 radio network. The latter broadcasts in four major cities. Other Dawn Media Group publications include the Herald, a monthly current affairs magazine.
  • Lakson Group This diversified business conglomerate owns the popular Express News and Express 24/7 TV news channels, along with the Daily Express, Express Tribune and Express Sunday newspapers.

Print media facts:

  • Pakistan has around 300 privately owned daily newspapers. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (formerly the Federal Bureau of Statistics), they had a combined daily sale of 6.1 million copies in 2009.
  • Most newspapers are published in Urdu or English, and are regional rather than national in nature.
  • Pakistan’s largest newspaper is the conservative Urdu language Daily Jang, which claims nationwide daily sales of 850,000.
  • Undated figures from the marketing research organization Gallup Pakistan, say about 60% of urban populations and 36% of rural populations read newspapers. (These figures broadly track urban and rural literacy rates). About 10% of the population read magazines. Gallup found that about 30% of the population read a periodical at least once a day.

Going online

  • Internet usage is growing rapidly from a low base, as witnessed by the phenomenal growth in popularity of the social networking site Facebook.
  • Bandwidths remain low, but this could change rapidly, as large sums of money have been invested in web infrastructure projects.
  • At least 30 cities now have WiMAX networks, which enable internet access by wireless anywhere within a wide area.
  • By some measurements, Pakistan has deployed the largest WiMAX network in the world. This fourth-generation technology offers metropolitan area networks a signal radius of about 50 km. The relatively low cost of WiMAX deployment makes last-mile broadband internet economically viable, even in remote locations.
  • The authorities have sought to block some websites, citing religious and moral concerns.
  • The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is charged with monitoring YouTube, MSN, Bing, Hotmail and Amazon, for anything that might be perceived as anti-Islamic content.
  • Blogging has also become an important part of political life in Pakistan, and has opened a broad new avenue for self-expression.
  • Hosh Media is a Pakistani site for crowd-sourced social activism, that offers free courses online in citizen journalism.

Internet facts:

  • The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said there were 29 million internet users at the end of 2011 – equivalent to about 16% of the population.
  • Among them were 6.4 million Facebook users (www.socialbakers.com, May 2012).
  • According to the PTA, about 1.7 million people had access to broadband services in 2010. This was less than one per cent of the population.
  • Popular aggregator sites such as Teabreak, Blogger.pk and Metblogs make bloggers’ narratives easier to access.
  • The repressive measures imposed by General Musharraf, were lifted following Pakistan’s return to elected government in 2008, but much of the media is still beholden to various political and military factions.
  • In recent times, there have been fresh moves to control the media in Pakistan, particularly the internet.
  • The government made an unsuccessful attempt to ban on 1,600 ‘offensive’ words from the internet in February 2012.
  • It subsequently invited tenders for the creation of a national internet filtering and blocking system, aimed at preventing access to millions of ‘undesirable’ websites.
  • In May 2012, the government shut down the micro-blogging website Twitter for a day, over alleged concerns about blasphemy.

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