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Increasing Role of Media in Pakistan

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IPRI Review Meeting

Increasing Role of Media in Pakistan


Date and Venue:        April 21st, 2014, IPRI Conference Hall

Presented by:              Saira Rehman, Assistant Editor. 


People’s perceptions on issues are based on media’s perceptions and media’s perceptions are based mostly on non-investigated assumptions. More information than ever is being produced on more subjects/themes and consumed now than in ever in Pakistan’s history. In 2002, there was only one TV channel and one radio station in the country. Now there are nearly 100 TV channels with 42 being 24/7 current affairs channels (14 of them in regional languages). There are about 120m TV consumers, of which 60m consume private TV channels. There are about 140m radio consumers and the newspaper circulation figure is barely 6m with about 5 readers to a paper making about 30m daily newspaper readers.

Over the past decade media has been most influential in impacting people’s thinking on political and social issues. The uprising against a military ruler (Musharraf) by lawyers and judges wasn’t the first time in the country’s history. It also happened during Ziaul Haq and Ayub Khan’s time. However, this time the difference was a visual medium that brought real-time information, making it possible to sustain the momentum of a growing resistance movement. On social issues also the media has helped change the perception on issues such as domestic violence, child rights, education and health.

However, it’s the state’s responsibility to maintain its writ in letter and spirit and deal with the issues like terrorism, security, law and order and citizen’s rights.  

Types of Media

  • Electronic
  • Print
  • Interactive ( refers to products and services on digital computer-based systems which respond to the user’s actions by presenting content such as text, graphics, animation, video, audio, games, etc.) 

Print Media

  • Print media in Pakistan is divided linguistically into three major categories: Urdu, English and other local/regional languages.
  • The English media targets the urban and the elite readership, and has great leverage among opinion makers, politicians, the business community and the wealthy sections of society, but it has limited circulation when compared to Urdu and other vernacular press.

There are three major players on the print media market and in the media market in general.

  • The Jang Group of Newspapers is Pakistan’s largest media group and publishes the Urdu language Daily Jang, The News International, Mag Weekly, and Awam. The group has a moderate conservative perspective.
  • The Dawn Group of newspapers is Pakistan’s second largest media group and produces an array of publications with that include the Star, Herald and the newspaper Dawn, which is its flagship. Dawn is considered a liberal, secular paper with moderate views. The Star is Pakistan’s most popular evening newspaper, and the Herald, is a current affairs monthly.
  • Nawa-i-Waqt is an Urdu language daily newspaper and has one of the largest readerships in the country. It belongs to the Nawa-Waqt group, which also publishes the English newspaper, The Nation. Like The Nation, the Nawa-i-Waqt is a right wing, conservative paper. According to Javid Siddiq, resident editor, the paper stands for democracy and for an Islamic welfare state.

     Source: (International Media Support, July 2009) 

Electronic Media

The booming electronic media is powerful, but young, and needs to find a greater balance in its coverage of political and conflict-related issues. Many journalists need training. 

Which media is more effective, electronic or print?         

For policymakers print media is most influential because it is urban-centric, news is backed by editorials in which newspapers take positions on issues. For the ordinary people TV is most important as information is backed by visuals and provides real-time information and news. However, increasingly radio is proving great community medium as FM radio stations can talk about local issues and promote local voices, dialects and local priorities. Radio is also almost non-sensationalist making it more reliable for local listeners.

Functions of Media

  • Reporting of the things that are happening
  • Providing information to the public
  • Higher role is promoting awareness among general public about socio-political economic problems,about weaknesses of governance, giving them critique of policies being pursued.
  • Importantly, creating an enlightened polity. 

Media Houses of Pakistan

  • The three main media groups that are still active to date have their origins in the Muslim independence movement of British India and were closely associated to some of its most prominent political figures. However, as the politics of the newly-born Pakistan turned into a harsh competition for power, those same media groups chose to carve their own space for survival by taking sides in the ongoing struggle.  

Weaknesses and Strengths of Media of Pakistan

Strength of electronic media is that it can make it difficult for govts and authorities to cover up misgovernance and abuse of power. It can also mobilize public opinion quickly in favour of reformist initiatives.

The weaknessis that its nature of real-time operations can dilute the filtration process of verifying information. Real-time media can get sucked into a race for ratings which can result in sensationalist and hysterical media that can end up distorting perceptions about issues. 

Current Scenario of Media

  • Pakistani media is facing a serious crisis of credibility by having embraced sensationalism as a substitute for ethical journalism.
  • It has become a statement-driven news operation in which facts and opinion are mixed while the line between opinion and analysis is also being deliberately blurred.
  • Also, media being itself targeted and under threat seems to be left in limbo to take any clear cut stance on hard core issues like terrorism, extremism, civil-military relations and national security.  

Legal framework for Editorial Policy

Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan

1)      Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression , and there shall be freedom of the press , subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity , security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States , public order , decency or morality , or in relation to contempt of court or incitement to an offence

International covenant on civil and political rights ;

  • Article 19 ( 1 ) : every one shall have the right to hold opinions without interference
  • Article 19 ( 2 ) : every one shall have the right to freedom of expression ; This right shall include freedom to seek receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers , either orally , in writing or in print , in the form of art or through any other media of his choice
  • Article 19 ( 3 ) : the exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph two carries with it special duties and responsibility . It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions , but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary

Challenges of Private Media

  • The TV channels in Pakistan seem to have wilfully abandoned the concept of gatekeeping, which was supposed to filter out hysteria and sensationalism.
  • Big Private TV Channels seem to be divided on major issues and particularly regarding civil-military relations. Open war of words between ARY and GEO shows vested interest of Media giants.
  • Extremist influence on media has been growing due to mushroom growth of TV channels that are more interested in ratings and resort to sensationalism instead of objectivity.

Media and the State

  • Media’s role is in creating awareness and in acting as a watchdog with regard to disputed governance-related issues such as corruption, violence and terrorism, and the rule of law.
  • Media’s role has been increased due to fast shrinking writ of the state and lack of consensus among the major institutions of the state.
  • According to the Journalist Shahid Masood, “There are no clear instructions or briefing from the government side to the media on major, sensitive issues and incidents.” It’s one example is incident of Laal Majid. 


  • Strengthen investigative journalism through training and through funding that can subsidise journalists wishing to undertake larger investigative projects.
  • Promote the establishment of a self-regulatory mechanism that can improve standards for Pakistani journalism.
  • Media in order to report on national security issues should adopt mature, balanced and objective policy.
  • Currently, gatekeeping is missing in journalism and media houses are running after ratings and sensationalism which is not in favour of national security and country’s image.
  • The media does not by definition contribute positively to the development of responsive governance and substantive democracy. It needs to work on it.
  • It should refuse to allow itself to be used to provide the oxygen of publicity to terror groups or to give airtime to persons with extremist views. Eg of Afghan Media.
  • Areas within the country suffer from lack of access to media. Journalists reporting from conflict areas face security problems that in turn hamper their ability to provide a free flow of information. Government, PEMRA and Media themselves should formulate a policy to address the safety and security of journalists.
  • Economically backward areas are disproportionately projected. They must get due attention as they comprise greater area of the area than the glittering cities which remain in focus. 

Question and Answer Session

Following comments and suggestions were made by the IPRI scholars after the presentation:

  • Role of Radio which according to quantitative analysis is more than other medias should be highlighted and used more vigorously to disseminate information and for communication.
  • Electronic media has become very important and has become source of reference for a common man. TV Talk shows especially on current affairs and politics are playing important role in making public perception.
  • Media should be very careful regarding the accuracy of facts and figures. Repetition of same faces be it politicians, analysts or experts should be revisited and other new and knowledgeable people should be given chance to appear on media.
  • There should be a regulatory authority to keep check and balances on media pertaining to following of the PEMRA’s rules for media and code of ethics.
  • National media has reduced the influence of and reliance on foreign media in the country.
  • However, to some extent media is also being used as a tool for vested interests. Influential political people and other big fishes are using media for their interests by siphoning off funds and favours to the media houses and persons.
  • Foreign funding into media is also a crucial matter and should be checked.


An informed citizenry and an enlightened society cannot be brought about in the absence of a professional and public-interest media. As a multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, multi-religious, multi-linguist state, Pakistan will remain confused if Pakistani media remains confused about its missionary objective of being a public-interest, ethical profession.

Disclaimer:  Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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