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Radio in Pakistan

On a national level, television is the dominant communication medium in Pakistan. But radio remains a crucial conduit for communicating with Pakistanis in certain areas of the country. This is particularly the case in rural areas and less economically developed provinces. Specifically, in the rural areas of the Baluchistan province, 46 percent of respondents said they listen to the radio at least weekly, rivaling rural television viewership at 47 percent. While in rural areas of the other three provinces surveyed (the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, and Sind), radio listenership is strong (Chart 1) but is still lower than TV viewership.
In regions such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA, not surveyed), where the Taliban has held control over certain areas for a significant period of time, radio transmissions are often people’s main source of entertainment and news, mainly because religious extremists disrupt television broadcasts through frequent sabotage. Mainstream newspapers are also not available; many villages are difficult to access and selling publications can be risky for the seller. In addition, within the FATA region and much of the NWFP, television sets are simply too expensive and access to electricity is spotty.
Chart 1

A wide range of radio stations are popular in Pakistan. However, most focus on entertainment programming as opposed to national or local news. Popularity rankings differ substantially from province to province (reflecting in part linguistic differences), but state-run Pakistan Radio continues to be the dominate player nationally. The Pakistan Radio network features 31 different regional and local stations and broadcasts programming in 16 languages. The listenership of Radio Pakistan and its main rivals, including the BBC World Service and some private stations, varies by demographic group and province. For a thorough breakdown of demographic media habits see our Media Outlet Matrix or our Regional Analysis.
Chart 2

In many areas of the NWFP and FATA, citizens are exposed to uncontested propaganda and erroneous information from illegally run radical radio. In the Paksitan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA) 2009 annual report, the state regulator said there were more than 100 illegal stations run by Mullahs or religious extremist groups transmitting in FATA alone. The report adds that much of the population in FATA is ill informed about developments outside the province and unaware of developments outside of Pakistan.
These illegal stations sometimes have a detrimental effect on education and development efforts. Religious extremist stations have been instrumental in campaigning against polio vaccines programs because these are seen as being unislamic and suspected to be a cause of infertility. [2] Educational and healthcare information is either scarce or highly distorted in these regions, according to a recent study by the group International Media Support (IMS). For many areas in the NWFP and FATA the main alternatives to these illegal radical radio stations are government controlled FM stations based in urban centers, along with international stations such as the BBC World Service or Voice of America’s Aap Ki Duniya. Five radio stations owned by the state transmit to the region, and the government is not currently issuing new radio licenses to private FM stations. Radio Pakistan, which was established in the mid-1960s, is under strict government control.
Similar constraints to independent media exist in the NWFP. However, a number of media development groups have worked to establish local radio outlets offering local news and information. One such organization is Intermedia Pakistan (no affliation to InterMedia, the operator of this website), a registered non-profit that conducts journalism capacity buliding projects and maintains a media resource centre.
Two of Intermedia’s current projects are characteristic of those often conducted in developing countries. The first aims to enhance reporting on human rights and other humanitarian issues. The second is the Ulas Ghak Radio Project, which provides thematic capacity building training to specific privately-run FM stations in the NWFP and FATA regions. The purpose of the trainings is to strengthen local station staff’s ability to create program content that addresses local news and information needs. In fact, within the Khyber agency (tribal area) of FATA, Intermedia Pakistan and the international NGO InterNews have supported the areas only station, Radio Khyber, that provides local news. The station is also the only outlet in the area to broadcast in Pashto.
Another radio-based media development project, run by the Uks Research Centre, incorporates a gender perspective into the Pakistani broadcast market. In October 2003, Uks launched its first radio project with a 15-minute bi-weekly women’s radio program in Urdu, becoming the first radio program in Pakistan for women and by women. Through the creation of its own original program content, the Uks Radio project has tried to counter a broadcast media envirnoment that confines women’s programming to issues of beauty, fitness and cooking. The mission of the project is to not only raise awareness of women’s issues but also to strengthen the profile of female journalists. The project team is all-female and they are responsible for all aspects of programming from conception to research, script writing, narration, recording and compiling the finished product. Uks looks at social and health issues such as HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, human trafficking, and economic development from a gender perspective. Although the project has found great success in recent years, where and when Uks programming is broadcast has been limited by the commercial interests of radio stations.
As a reflection of the Pakistani radio market’s aversion to hard news, the Uks project has been forced to raise funds to buy radio airtime in order to broadcast their programmes, as radio stations feel they are more likely to attract advertising revenue through entertainment instead of public-interest programming. Uks has received funding assistance froma number of international organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Women’s Media Foundation, and the Global Fund for Women.

Demographic Differences

Chart 3

As Chart 3 indicates, television reaches a wide audience nationally and is also critical to reaching those lower down on the socio-economic scale in most areas of the country. In fact, among the illiterate, only about 23 percent reported listening to the radio in the last week, versus 60 percent for TV. Use patterns follow a similar pattern.
Overall, radio use increases substantially as educational attainment rises, with weekly listenership peaking at 39 percent among those with a post-secondary education. For a more information radio use among specific demographic groups see our Demographic Analysis Tabs.
Chart 4

How and Where People Listen

Chart 5

A majority of weekly radio listeners (63 percent) reported listening in their homes. Interestingly, less than 1 percent of respondents said they listen to the radio in a communal setting. As Chart 5 illustrates, female radio listeners are much more likely to listen at home than men. This is likely the result of Pakistan’s social norms, in which women venture out into public less often.
Young adults are most likely to listen to the radio on a mobile phone, with about 37 percent of young adult listeners saying they do so. A large majority of these mobile radio listeners reside in either the Sind or Punjab province. In addition, 57 percent of these users are high-income earners and 25 percent are middle-income earners.
Another factor in wavelength use is the government’s control over the licensing specific wavelengths. Media development NGOs in the region claimed that the government limits the issuing of short and medium wave licenses, preferring to grant FM licenses to privately-run stations. Shortwave is the preferred wavelength within mountainous regions and the government is seeking to monopolize this wavelength. With shortwave broadcasting capability, a privately-run station could potentially rival Radio Pakistan in certain regions, specifically in the FATA and the NWFP. [4]

The Role of Language

A large majority of radio listeners said they understand Urdu, the country’s national language in addition to knowing their mother tongue. Yet development groups may find Urdu problematic as a broadcast medium. Pakistan is a complex multi-ethnic and multilingual state; each province is associated with a certain linguistic group. From its inception in 1947, Pakistan has experienced a number of ethno-national challenges that have highly politicized the use of language.
[5] Development partners focusing on a particular regional or local population are likely to find that communicating in a native or local language is more effective. For more information regarding the role of language in media and communication consumption in Pakistan see our Language and Regional Diversity article.

[1] “Media in Pakistan: Between radicalisation and democratisation in an unfolding conflict”. International Media Support. July 2009. Accessed March 2010.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Yusuf, Huma. “Pakistan’s airwaves: On militant turf, Radio Khyber offers a softer voice”. Christian Science Monitor. 13 May 2009.
[4] Murphy, Oren. “Event: Using Mobile Phones to Boost Radio in Tribal Pakistan.” 11 March 2010. Internews. Washington, DC.
[5] Mushtaq, Muhammad. “Managing Ethnic Diversity and Federalism in Pakistan”. European Journal of Scientific Research. Vol.33 No.2 (2009), pp.279-294..

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