Role of Pakistan Media: History and Present

“The democracy dies in Darkness” is a Washington Post Cover title that depicts media’s dire importance in a democracy. Media, which ensures freedom of people and expression, becomes the public’s voice, highlights issues, exposes wrongdoings, advocates transparency, and confronts mismanagement. The democratic norms cannot prevail if a country’s media is not set free and impartial. The same case is with Pakistan, where it is on 145th rank out of 180 in terms of Press freedom. However, all four communication mediums to the masses exist radio, print, Television, and online. Historically, the evolution of Pakistan media is a perfect case study for many of how it transformed the country’s dynamics. The starting of Newspapers pre-independence by the political veteran for promoting Muslim narrative, Expansion of Radio across the country, the deregulation process of Television, and the induction of 3G and 4G, are the few events that shaped the media landscape of the country. Currently, the media situation in Pakistan is more complex due to some issues such as government excessive content regulations, high concentration of viewership to few media houses, state media monopoly, and dependency on government advertisement. However, it is clear that ensuring media freedom and advancement is the way to look forward, especially for the country’s prosperous future.


History of Pakistan Print Media :

Print media of Pakistan evolved and survive dramatically because of its vibrancy and bluntness. The history of print media in Pakistan starts from the period of world war 2. Nawa-i-Waqt, Dawn, and Jang pioneered advocating true Muslims’ narratives and concerns and countering anti-Muslim propaganda. Unlike electronic and radio, the significance of print media is that it is retained outside the government monopoly. Several times both bouts and representative governments tried to control it but couldn’t succeed ultimately. At one time, print media dominated all other means of reaching to masses. Today, the digital boom, undoubtedly, has decreased the demand side of print media, but it is still thriving owing to the shifting to online means. A massive chunk of the public consumes print media through their websites and apps.


History of Radio in Pakistan

Pakistan inherited the radio system from the British. At the time of independence, there were only three radio stations in different cities, including Lahore, Peshawar, and Dhaka. Later, Pakistan started installing more stations across the country – and developed the institution of “Radio Pakistan.” – which later converted to Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) in 1972. Initially, the radio system of Pakistan was operated on the Amplitude Modelling (AM). The radio remained as the State-media for a long time till 1994, when the deregulation process began. Resultantly, the Private-owned radio airwave had its transmission started in 1994, and FM100 became the first private radio station in the country. Later, multiple companies attained licenses and set their stations


History of Television in Pakistan:

Television came to Pakistan in 1964 when the businessman Wajid Ali with the help of Nippon Electric Company of Japan and Thomas Television International of UK, set the first Channel Pakistan Television (PTV). Later, the channel was nationalized in 1971, which is still under the government’s control. The government took another adventure by launching a new track named Shalimar Television Network (STN). Till 2002, there was no private channel operating in Pakistan. However, the induction of antennas and satellite dishes in the 1990s familiarized some people with International media. The government monopoly was broken when the Private media houses were allowed to start their transmission in 2002. Afterwards, the ARY and Geo news was the first few channels that captured huge masses after being launched. On the other hand, the Indian channels were also being watched by many Pakistanis due to the cable distribution network and lack of engaging domestic content. Now, there is an eco-system of electronic media wherein variety of channels are working, such as News, education, entertainment, and sports.


History of Online Media:

The licensing of 3G and 4G services was the groundbreaking event that changed Pakistan’s conventional landscape on communication. Since then, the number of smartphone users has increased tremendously, encouraging people to use social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and others. Pre-licensing, the internet was being used via the cable distribution network. Those, who could afford computers and laptops at home, could access the internet while others needed to go to internet cafés. After 3G and 4G services and smartphones, internet accessibility has reached most people’s hands, and it is the growing medium of communication to the masses. Newsgroup and government officials’ institutions have also shifted their engagement with the public to the internet through websites, apps, and social media accounts.

Pakistan Media Advertisement budget share

The vibrant print media of Pakistan:

Although print media lacks generating mass viewership base due to the emergence of other means of media, it has a tremendous impact within literate and policymaking circles. It is considered the most authentic and credible source of information, and it is the second-highest advertisement shareholder in the country. Audit Bureau of Circulation of the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 847 newspapers are recognized as worthy to receive advertisement wherein 163 operate in multiple cities while others are specifically in only one city. Press council of Pakistan is a regulatory body of print media. Moreover, the All Pakistan Newspaper Association (APNS) is another body that ensures print media sustainability.

Pakistan Print Media Audience Distribution Graph

The diverse electronic media: Radio & Television

Pakistan has both state and private-owned electronic media, which are significant sources of information and entertainment to millions of people across the country. After 2002, when the private television company launched their transmissions, the massive boom in viewership the country had witnessed. According to the PEMRA report of 2018, 86 licensed channels exist in the country, out of which 26 are news, 37 are entertainment, and others are regional: Sindhi, Pashto, and Barohi. Television, according to the Gallup Pakistan report, receives the highest advertisement among all media. For instance, 46 per cent of all advertisement budget was spent on television, around 37.5 billion PKR. The other electronic media is a radio of 209 licensed FM stations operating in the country, wherein 154 are commercial and 55 non-commercial Educational stations. Both media are regulated and licensed by the PEMRA.

Pakistan television audience distribution graph
Pakistan radio audience distribution graph
no of license tv channels

The growing online media boom in Pakistan:

2013 and 2014 were remarkable years in the history of Pakistan when the telecommunication companies got their 3G and 4G license. Since then, the digital network has been revolutionizing and holding its ground in the country. Four telecommunication companies are operating in Pakistan: Egyptian-based Mobilink, Norwegian-based Telenor, UAE-based Ufone, and China-based. Zong. Statistics show that internet users are increasing at a great pace in Pakistan, and social connectivity is being enhanced. On the other hand, television channels, including news and entertainment, have also shifted to online platforms. In a nutshell, it is the dominating media that is snatching the user base from other mediums.


With endless resources State Media is kicking of Private competition:

The government media such as PTV, Radio Pakistan, and FM101 have never-ending resources that threaten fair competition. Pakistan television is a great example of expanding its network by creating multiple channels such as entertainment and sports. On the other hand, the state media, as mentioned above, are out of government regulation. For instance, the state-media can increase its network because no limitation legally allows the Institution to interfere.


Peculiar Regulatory Media Framework:

Pakistan Media Regulatory framework is odd in nature for various reasons. It only targets the private media explicitly; the state-owned media is out of the purview and heavily focuses on content regulation rather than on improving and advancing media infrastructure. PEMRA, which is the state regulatory body for having checked on TV channels, radio transmissions, and the cable distribution network, can’t legally interfere in state media operations. Thus, state media has been maintaining its monopoly for a long time. With the endless resources, it thrived without any questions. Furthermore, the PTA had its rigid stance on content regulation instead of improving telecommunication. The past activity of PTA depicts that it is more focused on website blocking, app banning, and controlling internet freedom. Therefore, the media regulation in Pakistan needs to be amended so that state monopoly can be overturned and freedom of expression can prevail.


TRP Manipulation:

Due to the conventional rating machine system, the Target Rating Point (TRP) used to be manipulated in Pakistan. There are 2000 monitoring machines installed in different urban areas of Pakistan, which determine the rating of channels. The sample size is not enough, and the absence of any other fair technology makes it easy to manipulate. In history, a private company was responsible for ensuring and checking the points, which later changed to government responsibility. Bilal Gilani, Executive Director of Gallup Pakistan, described in the PIDE webinar on Media Economy how the rating point was being tampered with in the past whereby the fair and accurate viewership could not be counted.


Concentration of Media:

The audience viewership is highly concentrated on some top media players in Pakistan. Apart from online, some groups have huge mass viewership in all three landscapes such as Print, Radio, and Television. For instance, the top four television groups acquire 55 per cent of viewers; likewise, on the Print media side, which is highly concentrated to only four groups with 70 per cent of the public. The same case is with Radio, where it has 24 per cent of listeners to the top-four group. On the other hand, the supply side in all three mediums is excessively increasing, which means the competition is difficult for small players to occupy enough space.


Media outreach is limited to Urban areas:

The media still does not have any concrete ground in Rural areas, and most people in remote areas are being deprived of information. The study shows that the 3G and 4G services speed available in Urban areas are not in most of the villages in Pakistan. Millions of people in Pakistan have not explored the internet and social media yet. Nearly all Television rating machines are installed in the Urban city, which means that the choices and preferences of Rural areas are not counted. Moreover, regional channels that are widely being watched in remote areas despite having a viewership base couldn’t be shown in numbers. Furthermore, due to the low literacy rate, the people of rural areas can’t consume print media because availing information from print requires reading skills.


Dependency on Political advertisement:

Most of the newspapers and news channels are dependent on government advertisement. The disbursement of government on media groups is the major source of their survival. Recent case, wherein PML (N) Leader Maryam Nawaz accepts that she stopped the funding to some channels because of their reporting, is an evidence that dependency on government advertisement could be a reason of media exploitation. In this era, where the media must be free, the dependency compels them to be partial in their content, and the chance increases of government controlling through advertisement and regulations.



One thought on “Role of Pakistan Media: History and Present

  1. Very good written article. It will be useful to anybody who utilizes it, as well as me. Keep up the good work – can’r wait to read more posts.

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