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Home Knowledge Articles Television in Pakistan – an Overview

Television in Pakistan – an Overview

Television is the dominant communication medium on a national level in Pakistan, but according to survey findings within certain rural regions of the country, radio is almost as equally popular as television. What factors have prevented television’s reach in some of these areas are continued high levels of poverty, an inconsistent broadcast signal, and a lack of a reliable electricity infrastructure. However, in each of the four provinces surveyed (Sind, Punjab, NWFP, and Baluchistan) television was more highly consumed than either radio or newsprint.

The loosening of state licensing controls greatly expanded the reach of TV in Pakistan. Beginning in 2002, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) effectively bisected the television market between terrestrial TV broadcasting (dominated by the state-run Pakistan Television network, or PTV) and new privately-run satellite and cable channels. The PTV remains the only free terrestrial TV network in the country, with channels offering news, entertainment, regional language programming, programming for Pakistanis abroad and the AJK-TV channel that broadcasts in the Kashmiri language for the people of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Although PTV dominates broadcast television in viewership, PEMRA has allowed the expansion of the satellite and cable TV markets. By the end of 2009, 77 national and regional satellite and cable television channels had been licensed. PEMRA cites two main factors for the increase in satellite channels; the relaxation of cross-media ownership restrictions by the Pakistani Legislature and the recent boom in national advertising revenue, especially of fast moving consumer goods. [1] This boost in new electronic media coincided with a large boost in the Pakistan’s overall economy in the early 2000s. Gross domestic product growth was driven by gains in the industrial and service sectors, averaging between 6-8 percent from 2004 to 2006.

Starting in 2002, the privately run television channels quickly began to push the social and political limits of programming. The private channels have made people more aware of their political and constitutional rights and made them more informed about news and events outside Pakistan. The liberalization of the electronic media sector was originally a strategy to counter Indian media influence, but the empowered group of new television outlets were willing to expose and challenge the authoritarian behavior of the Pakistani government. By 2007, these new outlets had become important conduits for political news and information.
However, amid political turmoil in the fall of 2007, the Pakistani government headed by former leader General Pervez Musharaff imposed a state of emergency and silenced all privately owned television channels, both foreign and domestic. General Musharaff accused channels such as Geo TV, Aaj and Ary One World of sowing discord and misrepresenting facts. During the state of emergency, which ended in December 2007, PEMRA rewrote the “voluntary” code of conduct for electronic media without consulting with Pakistan’s long established Federal Union of Journalists or the Pakistani Broadcasters’ Association. PEMRA then required all media outlets to sign on to the new code of conduct in order to resume broadcasting. All the blacked-out channels signed the code by the end of January 2008. [2] For more information about the relationship between the government and the overall media environment see the article on Pakistan’s Regulatory Environment here.
Since the loosening of licensing controls, the number of households with access to either cable or satellite TV has also increased substantially. According to PEMRA, some 8 million Pakistani households now have access to cable TV. PEMRA itself can be partly credited for the recent boost in cable TV access, as it has continued to freely license local cable TV systems, which totaled 2,346 by the end of the 2009.

Although the introduction of new satellite and cable channels has helped to educate and inform much of Pakistani society, PEMRA’s bifurcation of the TV market between terrestrial and satellite/cable has actually limited low-income and many rural residents from being able to consume independent media. (For a thorough breakdown of some of the most popular TV channels among different demographic groups see the Media Outlet Matrix).
Cost factors limit low-income access to satellite or cable TV, as does the broadcast focus on urban areas, which leaves many rural dwellers out of the market. Survey data reveal that some 69 percent of urban residents possess home access to cable or satellite TV, versus only 11 percent of rural respondents. Even within the Sind province, which has some of the country’s highest media and ICT access levels, only 15 percent of rural respondents reported access to cable or satellite TV. For more information regarding television access and use among different demographic and regional groups see the Demographic Analysis Tabs.
Despite the current urban-rural divide in access, great potential exists for further expansion of satellite TV access in particular. Local satellite television channels are mainly ‘free to air”, meaning that access to satellite TV has only a one-time cost to the consumer, instead of having to pay a subscription fee. This has allowed even low-income earners to gain access to a wide variety of media outlets. In fact, 49 percent of urban low-income earners said they have home access to either cable or satellite.

Related Links:
Regional Differences in Communication and Media Use
[1] “Annual Report 2006-2009”. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. Accessed March 2010.
[2] “Pakistan demands broadcasters sign conduct code”. Committee to Protect Journalists. New York, NY 12 November 2007. and “Pakistan’s private Geo TV back on the air”. Media Network. Radio Netherlands World Wide. 21 January 2008.

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