Sunday, September 26, 2010

Media boom: 90 channels, 106 FM stations in 10 years

Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the ones who think differently

Media boom: 90 channels, 106 FM stations in 10 years

Although general public got permission to run private channels in 2001, the eagles of PAF's Shaheen Foundation were already soaring above the law with their radio channels, pay-TV system and later Shaheen TV running as early as 1996

About ten years ago when the state of Pakistan ended its monopoly over the airwaves, a mushroom growth of privately owned TV and radio channels was witnessed. We now have 90 TV channels besides 28 foreign channels vying for Pakistani audience. Similarly, there are at least 106 licensed FM radio station and a countless illegal FM stations mostly operated by various madrassas.

Traditionally, Pakistani media was effusively owned or dictated by establishment mechanism or party in power until 2001. There was only one state-owned TV channel, PTV with some semi-government and privately owned entertainment content like STN and NTM. Radio market was fully monopolized by Radio Pakistan. Pervez Musharaf’s military regime, under immense internal and international pressure opened up electronic media market for local and foreign investors in 2001.

In 2002, government established an electronic media regulatory body called PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media regulatory Authority) with a mandate of issuing licenses to private firms for operating in Pakistani media market. Furthermore, authority is also responsible for regulating electronic media content distribution and monitoring; hence it can ban or put fine on any channel or company for not following terms and criteria given by the government [1]. According to PEMRA’s 2009 report, it has issued licenses to 83 channels in the private sector. In the same year, about 60 channels were fully functional in private sector including 22 news channels, 35 in general entertainment category and 3 of the religious genre. Now in 2010, total number of channels has reached 90. While foreign channels providing entertainment and news are 28 in number, there are four educational channels run by Virtual University and five by state-owned Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV). PEMRA’s report also reveals that the electronic media industry is providing bread and butter to 150000 people directly and seven million people indirectly in Pakistan [2] though at some extent these figures are quite dubious. It is estimated that total investment in electronic media has exceeded $2.5 billion and 17 percent of population relies on electronic media for first hand information [3]. The investment in media industry is growing at the rate of 07 percent per annum [4].

NTM (Network Television Marketing) was the first privately owned channel which started its broadcasting in collaboration with Shalimar Television Network (STN) with majority shares owned by the government [5]. In the meantime, Pakistan Air Force’s subsidiary Shaheen Foundation inaugurated its radio channel, pay-TV system and later Shaheen TV in 1996. Broadcasting these channels as privately owned firms, reveals the immense powers of armed forces in Pakistan and their ability to manipulate laws in their favor since government had not facilitated any private channels till much later in the 90’s[6].

In 2001, government in the real sense opened up the media market for private sector. Indus TV network was the first satellite channel to air its broadcasting in Pakistan. ARY group of companies, owned by Dubai based Pakistani businessman, started its transmission in September 2001 and was quickly followed by GEO television network in 2002 owned by Pakistan’s biggest media group widely known as ‘Jang or Mir group’. An unending process was triggered by these initiatives and in coming years a lot more news and entertainment channels jumped into the business. Terrorists’ attacks on world Trade Center New York and later US led invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq provided a chance for media companies to harvest news channel audience. For the first time in history of Pakistan, General elections held in 2002 were covered and broadcasted by the newly born TV channels. These channels provided the people with an opportunity to get an impartial view of this process to some extent, since election coverage in past was solely state-owned TV’s market [7]. Mushrooming of TV channels in coming years can be depicted by the following chart.

Meanwhile, the TV viewership has reached to 86 million in 2009 which was only 63 million in 2004[8]. Interestingly, in the last 5 years, viewership in villages, small and medium size cities, increased tremendously and has reached to 68 million while metropolitan and large cities have a viewership of total 18 million. According to some other sources, total viewership of television has reached to 115 million [9]. Pakistani media has grown at the rate of 132 percent per year in last one decade with 150 advertising agencies and 74 production companies [10].

Print media during the last decade, has gone through noteworthy decline in number of daily newspapers and magazines and it has been losing its business and readership to growing television exposure though it has shown a steady increase in readership in last 6 years. Newspaper and magazine sector are on the second and third position respectively as per media exposure to Pakistani consumers. Following is the detailed description of these facts [11]:

According to these figures total exposure of print media including newspapers and magazines (72%) is still less than 89% exposure of the television which has become a dominant medium in last one decade. All three most circulated newspapers and top two most circulated magazines are owned by the same media moguls who are influential in the TV market. Print media is the oldest media and historically most influential media which has publications in 11 languages and daily circulation of around 4 million, despite a tremendous diversity in cultures and ethnicity in the society of Pakistan [12]. Urdu and Sindhi are the largest language groups in print media while English is the third. Urdu media (including print and electronic media), that is considered as conservative; religious and sensational in general, is serving rural class and urban middle class. On the other hand, English media is urban in its nature and considered as more elitist, professional and liberal [13]. Sindhi newspapers and channels have progressive approach which is not found in the army dominated province of Punjab.

Radio, during the last decade, has become an urban phenomenon due to rapid increase in FM channels; providing entertainment around the clock. Traditionally, it is a dominated medium in rural areas due to its wide range and unavailability of other media. Radio waves were monopolized by state-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation till 2002 and first license in private sector was issued to local channel called Power FM 99[14]. Now more than 106 FM channels are broadcasting in Pakistan legally with limited mandate since they are not allowed to broadcast news. Many illegal FM channels are also being operated especially in tribal areas by religious groups and individuals. Radio is the third widely reached medium in country and PEMRA issues license to operate one channel for a very high fee [15]. High license fee is hindering any possibility for community based groups to operate and launch a radio station which further facilitates the large media conglomerates to establish monopoly over radio industry. Pakistan Radio and its FM channel 101 covers 80% of territory and have access to 96.5 percent population. According to a survey it has some 95.5 million listeners around the country who can listen to 31 stations [16]. Radio Pakistan programs cover a wide range of issues including 48% music, 12.5% religion, 11% news and current affairs, 10% rural and agriculture, 5% women, children and workers issues, 3% youth and student issues, 2.5% sports, 2% armed forces, 2% dramas, 2% publicity campaigns and 2% to science and technology[17]. PBC’s external services broadcast in 70 countries in 15 different languages.

There are four main news agencies working in Pakistan including one owned by government and other three are subsidized by government [18]. These factors make their impartiality and objectivity dubious. Volume and capacity of these agencies is quite limited and not as per the standards of the international news agencies.

DTH (direct-to-Home) services in Pakistan are in initial stages yet and posses some lucrative opportunities for foreign and local investors. PEMRA has issued licenses to two local companies for DTH services but these have not become operational yet [19].


[1] For more details, URL:

[2] PEMRA Annual Report 2009 [online]. Available from: URL:

[3] Mahmud E. Zarae eblagh sy narazgi kiun? Daily AajKal 2010 January 22; Sect A:5

[4] PEMRA Annual Report 2009 [online]. p. 21; Available from: URL:

[5] Gunaratne SA. Status of Media in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Encyclopedia of international media and communication. New York: Academic Press; 2003. p. 434 (vol. 3)

[6] Siddiqa A. Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. Karachi: Oxford University Press; 2007. p. 159

[7] Windows on Pakistani media [online]. Center for Civic Education. p. 9; available from: URL:

[8] Cyber Letter Gallup Pakistan [online]. 2009 June; Available from: URL:

[9] Pakistan Fact File [online]. Available from: URL:

[10] Industryfacts. Media Pakistan by Dawn Group [online]. Available from: URL:

[11] Introduction and media landscape. Pak Medaicome and MConsulting Redbook Report 2007. p. 20

[12] Media in Pakistan: between radicalisation and democratisation in an unfolding conflict [online]. International Media Support 2009 July. p. 20. Available From: URL:

[13] Waseem M. Media for peace: past and future. South Asia Media Monitor 2004. 1(1): 94

[14] For more details:

[15] Media in Pakistan: between radicalisation and democratisation in an unfolding conflict [online]. International Media Support 2009 July. p. 22. Available From: URL:

[16] PBS domestic coverage [online]. Available from: URL:

[17] Gunaratne SA. Status of Media in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Encyclopedia of international media and communication. New York: Academic Press; 2003. p. 434 (vol. 3)

[18] Windows on Pakistani media [online]. Center for Civic Education. p. 12; available from: URL:

[19] For more details:

Riaz ul Hassan has been actively involved in Social Media studies since 2006. He has held diverse editorial positions in different literary magazines including Ravi and Patras. Currently studying in Sweden and plans to pursue his PhD in the field of Social Media. Riaz graduated from Government College Lahore and has worked at the same institute for about one year as lecturer. He has keen interest and involvement in arts, theater and Social Media studies.

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