Television in Pakistan has come a long way from its birth in 1964. This was in the shape of Pakistan TeleVision (PTV), the first ever native TV channel, established as a private entity but licensed by the government without any regulations in place. It was set up by a businessman Wajid Ali in collaboration with technical expertise of Nippon Electric Company of Japan and Thomas Television International of UK. In 1971 it was nationalized and went in government control. The state still retains control of it and PTV is one of Pakistan’s largest current affairs channels with runs several sister channels on thematic issues. In the interim, in 1988, the Shalimar Television Network (STN) was established as the country’s second TV channel as a public-private enterprise, opening a new era of progressive programming, ending long-running stifling information and cultural censorship on PTV.
In 2002, the media landscape underwent the country’s most influential evolutionary development with the privatization of airwaves. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was established with the mandate to issue licenses for private TV channels and FM radio stations. The regulator’s jurisdiction does not extend to the state broadcast sector. ARY Digital became the first fully independent TV channel in 2001, launching transmissions from the UK, and overall the country’s third TV channel. It formally secured a license after PEMRA was established a year later. Geo TV became the second fully private-owned news TV channel in Pakistan in 2002, after ARY, triggering fierce private sector TV current affairs wars for audiences that continues to date with dozens of other eventually influential players joining the fray in later years.
According to the PEMRA Annual Report 2018, by the end of 2018, the total number TV channels licensed by it was 88 of which 26 were news and current affairs channels, 37 entertainment and seven on specialized subjects while at least 18 of all these channels were in regional languages including Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi, Seraiki and Sindhi, apart from Urdu. In the first half of 2019, PEMRA issued licenses for an additional 48 TV channels taking the overall total number of independent TV channels currently in the country to around 135. This is an average of eight new private channels entering the TV market every year since 2002.