Pakistan is a relatively large country with a population of 207 million (according to the 2017 national census) addicted to media and current affairs. General political instability, often shaky economy and poor social development indicators make for a consistently busy and shrill news cycle. No wonder there are hundreds of TV channels and radio stations and over a thousand newspapers, apart from a crowded and busy national cybersphere, that serve as a pluralist and noisy current affairs fare on a daily basis, making for an interesting and continually evolving media landscape.
Censorship is an often-recurring feature of the Pakistani news media landscape. Print media has traditionally been vibrant with often fierce journalism as a counterweight to the country’s chequered political history characterized by crackdown on dissent and censorship. Even during representative rule, print media has often been the brunt of official manipulation. While in recent decades TV, radio and internet have come to occupy the central space in Pakistan’s media landscape since the turn of the century as source of information, print media still retains its disproportionately high influence on policymaking circles and by often showcasing some of the most independent and critical voices as opposed to electronic media which tends to dumb down issues.
In recent years online media Pakistan has been able to engender a growth-oriented, dynamic digital society with internet and online media usage exploding in numbers and scale. Easier, faster and cheaper internet access is fuelling social media use and underpinning a burgeoning online current affairs media and community information platforms that are driving a national discourse from a people’s perspective. This is replacing mainstream TV and radio media in Pakistan as sources of traditional information compromised by Big Business and Deep State with public interest journalism fading away all but completely.
The private and state sectors both are major media players in the broadcast sector with both running multiple TV channels and radio stations. The print media sector, more outspoken and more accommodative of dissent generally, is only privately owned. Cross media ownership is legally supported, resulting in high media ownership concentration and media audiences. Over half of the overall audiences in each of four media – TV, radio, print and online – are concentrated in the hands of four owners or fewer.
The stakes are high for the major players in terms of the media economy. The total media advertising market, according to Gallup Pakistan data for financial year 2017-18 cited by Aurora magazine, was PKR 81.6 billion (USD 680 million), which included TV, print, radio, digital and others. This compared to slightly smaller revenues overall from the preceding fiscal year 2016-17 at PKR 87.7 billion (USD 730.8 million) but still constitutes a relatively large market that engenders fierce media market competition. For 2017-18, the overall advertising volume for TV market was 46% at PKR 38 billion (USD 316.6 million); 24% or PKR 19.5 billion (USD 162.5 million) for print media; 8% or PKR 8 billion (USD 66.6 million) for online media and 3% or PKR 2.5 billion (USD 20.8 million) for radio media.