Downfall of Pakistani Electronic Media – Causes and Challenges

Pakistani electronic media emerged after 9/11 attacks when the whole world looked towards Afghanistan. Majority of the world was not much aware about Afghanistan and its neighboring countries like Pakistan but after 9/11 the world looked Afghanistan and Pakistan surprisingly. Pakistan became US ally in War on Terror so it came up with big interests. In the beginning, Pakistan faced much criticism from foreign media though much of the criticism was based on specific objective which US achieved later when Pakistan became partner in war. In 2001, when US invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan had few state owned TV channels, some Radio stations and some newspapers. I remember I was in Lahore when I watched news about 9/11 attacks on BBC, initially no one knew that 9/11 was an attack or a plane crash.

Before 9/11, Pervez Musharraf had imposed martial law in 1999, and just after two years 9/11 took place. Government had not enough resources to counter the criticism of foreign media so Pakistan was facing much pressure from all sides. PTV network and Pakistani newspapers had no capacity and ability to deal the foreign content and to cover all sides of US war.

American war on terror was not only a war of weapons while it was a media war as well. I remember when CNN and BBC were used to air the documentaries and programs on US weapons and technologies. I used to think that how any country would sustain in front of America when they have huge resources and world’s top class army.

Post 9/11 attacks, Pakistan faced several challenges and lack of advance media was also a big challenge. In starting, Pakistan surrendered everything before USA and fulfilled all orders. Pakistani government and armed forces were not capable to do anything against US interests hence they did what Americans didn’t expect even. Pakistan received huge amount against its services in war on terror; as we have seen much boost in Pakistani economy in Musharraf’s era.

Then, Musharraf and its cabinet decided to give licenses to private TV channels, the one idea of many ideas behind private TV channels was to develop the own platforms against foreign propaganda. Some foreign countries had also pushed Musharraf to create open space for investors and they assured him to support Pakistani media industry through providing new technologies.

Musharraf thought, private channels can create counter narrative and can promote government’s voice. In 2002, Musharraf’s government established PEMRA to regulate the Electronic media industry of Pakistan. PEMRA was the first ever autonomous body which was developed to control the flow of information and to regulate the media industry. PEMRA gave licenses to many private TV channels and many foreign channels also got landing rights. Then, we seen the tremendous increase in news channels and seen many entertainment channels as well.

Although, Inception of Pakistani private electronic media was not good, it did many mistakes, covered the war scenes without any censorship, didn’t follow the ethical and moral responsibilities but with time it learnt a lot. When Musharraf left government in 2008 there were more than 70 private TV channels, hundreds of private Radio station and hundreds of newspapers were covering the news across Pakistan. It was a tremendous boost of media industry in almost 10 years’ era of Pervez Musharraf.

Private TV channels and newspapers were earning much and Pakistan Media industries expended extraordinarily, many local and international advertising agencies started their business, many big corporation like, Pepsi, Coca Cola, Unilever, P&G, Reckitt Benckiser, Nestle, and Continental biscuits had major share in Pakistani advertising industry. Many advertising agencies like Group-M, Brainchild, Manhattan, Oktopus, Blitz, Time & Space, Midas, Adcom, Orient, Interflow and Channels 7 were major shareholder ad agencies in Pakistan. Telecommunication companies like Mobilink, Ufone, Telenor, Warid and Zong had invested huge amount in Pakistan and their revenue had reached up to billion till 2010. Pakistan media industry was flourishing very fast.

Then, era of PPP was also good for media industry because government started advertisement of billion rupees, Musharraf had given new concepts of government so PPP’s government also felt need to invest in media industry. Expansion of Pakistani media had reached up to 100 private TV channels, hundreds of newspapers and hundreds of private radio stations because commercial sector was also spending a lot on advertising their products.

Then, PMLN came in power in 2013, situation was same, private media channels had crossed the number of 100 and we witnessed a huge expansion in outdoor and digital media. PMLN broke all the records of public sector advertisement, billions of rupees were given to media industry in shape of advertisements. Government advertisements rates were fixed and that were almost 2500 % extra in comparison with rates for private sector. For example, if a private TV channel was giving 10,000 rupees per minute spot rate to private sector then the same channel was charging 250,000 rupees for 1 minute advertisement to public sector. Private TV channels and advertising agencies earned billion of rupees from government of PPP and PMLN.

Few advertising agencies earned billion of rupees from Public sector, some were backed by some political parties and some were following the concept of give and take. Politicians also earned millions of rupees through advertisement. Commercial sector was investing huge in media industry till 2017, but when Supreme Court took action on different mega cases including real estate, telecommunication and tax collection then we witnessed the cut in advertisement budget of all sectors which affected media industry badly. In 2018, when PTI came in power and made government in Federal, Punjab and KPK then Imran Khan started austerity campaign and stopped Public sector advertisement. Pakistani rupee was devalued up to 30 percent and created alarming situation of investors.

Media industry which expended extraordinary now suffered badly, Media was getting billion rupees from government’s advertisement but PTI government stopped everything suddenly. We recently seen big downsizing in media industry, hundreds of newspapers have closed, some channels have also closed their operation while many channels have fired up to 40 % of their employees. Many big TV channels which were famous for making and breaking governments are now not paying salaries to their employees from last 6 months. Right now, private TV channels are earning from only commercial sector on which they can just run their day to day expenses. On the other hand, governed reduced the advertisement rates of public sector up to 70 % and the channels which were charging 300,000 per minutes have agreed over almost 90,000 rupees for 1 minute ad.

The inception of media was based on some objective and we know that aims and objectives are not fixed. Although media downsizing is affecting people and creating unemployment but media should learn now and should adopt objectivity. Advertisement is the only source of income for Media but when Media will create panic and will support corrupt political parties then who will invest in Pakistan.

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