Television Overview

Television is the main source of news and information and home entertainment
for Pakistan’s urban population.

 

Access to television is also increasing rapidly in popularity in
the countryside, where two thirds of Pakistanis live.

 

However, most of the rural population can only receive state-run
Pakistan Television (PTV).

 

The 90-plus private television stations that have sprung up over
the past decade are not allowed to use terrestrial transmitters to broadcast
free to air.

 

They are only permitted to broadcast by satellite and via cable
networks, which do not extend far outside the main towns.

 

 

Liberalisation of TV ownership

 

When General Pervez Musharraf came to power as military head of
state in 1999 there was only one terrestrial TV channel in Pakistan, owned and
operated by the state.

 

In a move that remains unusual in the region, he liberalised the
ownership of radio and television and encouraged the growth of private,
commercially funded TV channels.

 

However, despite the existence of a government licensing system,
controlled by the Pakistan Electronic
Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)
, critics maintain that there is no
effective control over who can own a TV station or how decisions on programming
are made.

 

The standard of television news reporting varies wildly.
Unconfirmed rumours are frequently reported as fact and the way stories are
presented is often heavily influenced by political or commercial considerations.

 

A March 2012 report from the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani think
tank, commented:

 

“… governments, working
journalists, media moguls and the courts have all conspired to undermine the
legitimacy of the media regulator, rendering it toothless and often a subject
of ridicule and contempt from all sides. The Regulator abysmally failed to
conceive, prescribe and enforce any entry barriers for those wishing to own
‘public platforms’ like TV and radio channels. As a result, in Pakistan today,
owning a ‘public platform’ like a TV channel which influences the collective
mind of the society and its nature of political, economic and sociological
discourse is considered little different from owning a sewerage pipe factory
”. (See http://www.jinnah-institute.org/images/b0312-18%20pdf.pdf)

 

Nevertheless, several recent surveys have shown that television
remains a more trusted source of information than radio or newspapers.

 

 

The growing might of TV

 

In normal times, television commands larger audiences than radio
in most parts of Pakistan.

 

According to the marketing research organization Gallup Pakistan, there were 86 million
television viewers in the country in 2009 – about 52% of the estimated population
that year.

 

Of these, 48 million – more than half – lived in rural villages.

 

The number of rural TV viewers has increased massively in recent
years, mainly due to electrification in the countryside.

 

The BBC media audience survey of 2008 found that more than 90% of
the urban population in the densely populated provinces of Punjab and Sindh
watched television at least once a week.

 

In the rural parts of these provinces, more than 60% of the
population also told the BBC they watched television regularly.

 

Gallup Pakistan in 2006 said 11% of rural households had their own TV
sets, and the trend appears strong.

 

A 2009 study by Erasmus University of The Netherlands, found TV
sets in an average of 13% of all households they sampled.

 

The Erasmus University survey looked in detail at eight villages,
deliberately selected for their poverty and remoteness, in all four of
Pakistan’s main provinces.

 

People who do not have their own TV sets, often watch TV outdoors
in communal meeting places. These are popular throughout the country,
especially in the evenings and on holidays.

 

 

Lifeline radio broadcasting is cheap and easy, but lifeline TV may be
more effective

 

During the 2010 floods in Pakistan, some aid agencies used radio broadcasts
to provide flood victims with key messages, life-saving information and special
programmes.

 

However, an infoasaid
survey of people whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged by floodwater
suggests that lifeline programming on television would have reached more people
and produced a greater impact.

 

This survey of more than 1,000 flood victims from low-income groups in
villages in Punjab and Sindh provinces was carried out in November and December
2010.

 

30.2% of respondents said they had access to a television set, but
only 22.6% were able to tune in to a radio.

 

Furthermore, 44% of respondents said they trusted information from
television, whereas only 28.3% trusted radio.

 

Asked to pick just one medium that would be the best way to give them
information about help to deal with the floods crisis, 35.8% said television. A
further 32.4% said loudspeaker announcements. Only 12.8% chose radio.

 

Effective television production is more expensive and more complicated
than radio programming.

 

But if TV is the most widely received and trusted source of
information in a disaster-affected community, aid agencies should consider it
seriously as a first option.

 

 

 

PTV dominates rural areas

 

The
state broadcaster, Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) retains an
official monopoly of terrestrial free-to-air television services.

 

This
gives PTV a huge share of the
national TV audience, especially in rural areas where cable and satellite
channels are not available.

 

In
2009, Gallup Pakistan reckoned that
just over half of all TV viewers watched terrestrial television. That meant
effectively that they were watching PTV.

 

However,
since the liberalisation of broadcasting in 2002, PTV has experienced stiff competition from private satellite and
cable broadcasters, particularly in urban areas.

 

By
2010 there were more than eight million subscribers to cable TV services across
the country, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority
(PEMRA)
.

 

Gallup Pakistan estimated that 38 million people aged 10 and over watched cable and
satellite TV channels on an average day in 2009.

 

Of
these, 12 million – nearly a third – lived in villages.

 

Cheap
television sets made in China have helped to increase the TV audience among low-
income groups.

 

More
than 100 TV channels are available on satellite, including more than 20 foreign
channels such as BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.

 

About
3,000 cable TV licenses have been issued and in early 2012 there were more than
2,500 cable TV distribution companies in operation. These capture TV channels
by satellite and relay them to paying subscribers via a local cable network.

 

Some
TV channels, including the popular Geo TV, can also be accessed on the
internet and on mobile phones.

 

Most
Pakistani TV channels broadcast in Urdu and English. Some also
make extensive use of local languages.

 

In
urban areas, the cable channels Geo TV and its stablemate Geo News compete
successfully with PTV.

 

The
privately owned religious channel Quran TV is also very popular.

 

However,
PTV dominates the rural areas.

 

Thousands
of small towns and villages have not yet been connected to the cable network.
And even where cable TV does reach, many poorer families cannot afford the
cable TV subscription charge of about US$ 3.50 per month.

 

The BBC
media audience survey of 2008 showed that 69% of urban residents possessed home
access to cable or satellite TV.

 

However,
only 11% of respondents in rural areas had home access to cable or satellite.

 

The
cable companies do not share their income from connection fees with the
television channels that they distribute. Pakistan’s private TV stations
therefore have to generate all their revenue from advertising and programme
sponsorship.

 

There
are around 20 private news channels, the most popular of which is Geo News.

 

Government regulations prevent cable and
satellite channels from broadcasting ‘live’ news. However, since Pakistan’s
return to democracy in 2008, a very brief delay of just a few seconds seems to
be acceptable to the authorities.

 

While
television audiences are growing fast in most of Pakistan, they remain
relatively small in the conflict-prone and religiously conservative areas along
the Afghan frontier, particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

 

A
survey by the Community Appraisal and
Motivation Programme (CAMP)
organisation, Understanding FATA 2008, illustrates this point clearly.

 

When
asked which stations they watched regularly, 42 per cent of respondents in FATA replied ‘None’. Less than two per
cent of respondents said they valued TV as a source of information.

 

Many
of the Islamist insurgent groups disapprove of television. Besides discouraging
the local population in FATA from
watching TV, militants have been known to destroy TV sets in people’s homes and
rip up cable networks.

 

Journalistic
standards on Pakistani television are generally low. Many of the reporters
charged with covering major national events have received little or no
training.

 

Commentaries
on news and current affairs are often ill-informed and poorly presented.

 

In
most cases, TV news coverage is heavily influenced by whatever political
faction the channel is associated with.

 

Soap
operas, especially TV dramas in Urdu produced in India, are extremely popular.
The Pakistani TV industry has so far been unable to produce any blockbuster
successes to compete with them.

 

The
popularity of Indian soaps is illustrated by a survey of 3,600 radio listeners
conducted by the marketing research company Group M. When asked which TV
channels they watched, the majority replied Star Plus, an Indian channel
that specialises in soaps.

 

The
same survey found that in Karachi, the average viewer spent 128 minutes
each day watching TV, compared to 104 minutes listening to radio.

 

 

The 2008
BBC audience survey found that the most popular TV channels, measured by the
percentage of respondents who had watched them in the previous week, were:

 

PTV Channels 1, 2 or 3        56%

Geo News                            36%

PTV News                            31%

Geo TV                                26%

Quran TV                             20%