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Pakistan Media Crisis: Facts and Myths

Why are Pakistan media groups laying off employees and shutting down TV channels? Is it caused by Pakistan government cutbacks in advertising? Is it part of the PTI government's alleged efforts to censor media? Or part of the long overdue industry shake-out after almost two decades long un-interrupted media business expansion?

Pakistan Ad Spending. Source: Aurora/Dawn

How much was the Nawaz Sharif led PMLN government spending on advertising? Did Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi increase media advertising budgets to buy favorable coverage at taxpayers' expense?

Are Pakistan government and national security establishment unique in wanting to manage media coverage? Do Western government manage media as well? If so, how? How do their media management techniques differ?

Global Advertising Growth 2016. Source: Magna

What is the future of media in Pakistan as the Internet penetration grows dramatically with 1-2 million more people coming online each month? Will greater spending on digital ads change journalism in Pakistan? Will more journalists take to social media and other online platforms as business?

Viewpoint From Overseas host Misbah Azam discusses these questions with panelists Sabahat Ashraf and Riaz Haq.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on December 21, 2018 at 7:27am

The U.S. Has Been Named as One of the Deadliest Places in the World for Journalists

Two narco-states, a near failed state and the U.S. These were among the deadliest places to practice journalism in 2018, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which added the U.S. to the worst offenders list for the first time in the annual roundup’s 23-year history.

The home of the first amendment ranked in the top five most lethal countries for members of the press, behind Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico and Yemen, while tying with India.

Six journalists lost their lives in the U.S. over the past year. Four, as well as a sales accountant, were brutally killed when a gunman opened fire on the Capital Gazette newsroom in June in the deadliest single attack on the media in recent history. Two other U.S. journalists, a cameraman and TV anchor, were killed by a falling tree in May while covering a storm in North Carolina.

Hostage-takings, imprisonment and disappearances all increased. In total, RSF recorded 80 journalists killed this year, 61% of whom were targeted in retaliation for their work. Another 348 were detained, and 60 held hostage.

“Journalists have never before been subjected to as much violence and abusive treatment as in 2018,” the press watchdog said in a statement.

While RSF named Afghanistan the deadliest country for journalists this year, with 13 deaths, 45% of the worldwide murders the group recorded occurred outside of conflict zones. These included the high-profile killings of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and Slovakian data journalist Ján Kuciak. Their shocking murders, as well as the high number of cases in which reportage led to prolonged incarceration, such as with Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have demonstrated “the lengths to which press freedom’s enemies are prepared to go,” RSF said.

The group’s findings underscore the rising animosity journalists across the world encountered in the past year, a problem that has been enflamed by world leaders’ and politicians’ invectives against the media, including the frequent “enemy of the people” salvos fired off by President Donald Trump.

“The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists,” said Christophe Deloire, RSF’s Secretary-General.

“Amplified by social networks, which bear heavy responsibility in this regard, these expressions of hatred legitimize violence, thereby undermining journalism, and democracy itself, a bit more every day,” he added.

In a separate report issued Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists found the number of journalists killed in reprisals for their work nearly doubled worldwide compared to 2017. As of Dec. 14, at least 34 journalists were singled out for murder.

The New York-based organization said the uptick in killings, combined with the sustained high number of jailings, adds up “to a profound global crisis of press freedom.”

Last week, TIME recognized four journalists and one news organization targeted for their work — Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md. — as the Person of the Year.

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 21, 2018 at 7:31am

The Pakistan government’s financial squeeze on journalism

By Umer Ali

“It is the worst financial crisis the media industry has seen since it was liberalized,” Afzal Butt, the president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, says. (Pakistani broadcast media, previously under the exclusive control of the government, was in 2002 opened up to private ownership.) But the financial paralysis of news outlets has not been entirely a function of the market. It has been a direct result of the government’s recent austerity measures.

Over the summer, the government—the biggest source of advertising revenue for media organizations—stopped paying what it owed. “News media in Pakistan, despite knowing its drawbacks, still rely heavily on government advertisements and subsidies,” Saroop Ijaz, Human Rights Watch’s Pakistan reporter, says. At the time, the cut-off was seen as part of a broad effort by Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician who was elected prime minister in August, to slash government expenditures.

RELATED: Prominent Pakistan journalist shot by gunman

Yet many journalists and free-press activists believe the motivation was more sinister. In their view, the government has attempted to financially squeeze dissenting voices among the news media. “It’s not like a flash flood that caught townspeople by surprise,” Butt says. “It’s a properly planned crisis orchestrated by several state organs.”

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Pakistan’s government has stifled reporters and other critics before. Other methods have included arrest, prohibitions on leaving the country, abductions, and violent attacks. Pakistan’s military, which wields significant influence over civilian matters, “quietly, but effectively, restricts reporting by barring access, encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect acts of intimidation, and even allegedly instigating violence against reporters,” according to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Around 60 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, and CPJ estimates that the military, government, or associated political groups were responsible for half of those killed in the past decade.

Matiullah Jan, an Islamabad-based television journalist known for his pro-democracy views, was among the first victims of the layoffs this fall. Previously, he says, officials would directly threaten journalists to gag criticism—something Jan believes he experienced last year, when two men on motorbikes pulled up next to the vehicle he and his children were traveling in and smashed the windshield with a rock. “Now they are using sophisticated methods to trigger a financial crisis,” he says.

In addition to limiting advertising, Jan explains, the government can attempt to bring down networks’ ratings by shuffling channel assignments—making shows difficult to find—or pressuring cable operators to take critical news channels off the air (both of which happened to Pakistani TV network Geo this spring), or limiting circulation of certain newspapers.

One of the newsrooms that believes itself to have been targeted by financial suppression is Dawn, Pakistan’s largest and most respected English-language daily paper. In 2016, Cyril Almeida, a reporter for Dawnreported leaks from the proceedings of a national security council meeting, during which the government confronted military leadership over inaction against certain terrorist groups. “Dawn leaks” became a major political talking point, and led Pakistan’s information minister to resign. During a government-commissioned inquiry into the matter, Dawn editors refused to name their sources, and Almeida was temporarily barred from leaving the country. Since then, the paper claims, government officials have choked the paper’s circulation, barring its distribution in several cities and military cantonments, special zones across the country that are controlled and managed by the armed forces. In September, Almeida was hit with treason charges, and was again barred from leaving the country, this time because of an interview published in May in which he quoted Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, implicitly criticizing the military for its policies on terrorism.


MATIULLAH JAN BELIEVES THAT the military and Khan’s party, the Pakistan Justice Movement, are in cahoots to suppress the critical press. “Something strange has happened,” Jan says. “In the previous government there was a clear divide between the military and the civilians which was often expressed publicly; however, the current government and the military are on the same page when it comes to freedom of expression.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 29, 2019 at 10:15am

Unlimited Greed Brings
Pakistan Media Under
Overdue Scrutiny, Much
Needed Axe
Shaheen Sehbai

THE LAST DECADE or so has seen
the Pakistan media, especially the TV
guys, grab immense power and
unmatched notoriety while making tons
of money, mostly undeserved.
All this was done, in most cases, while
blatantly flouting basic media ethics.
Some media houses had actually
started believing and publicly claiming
they were kingmakers and could make
or overthrow any government.
Not so anymore. The 2018 general
election saw this media role at its best,
or probably the worst.
Ruling politicians and greedy business
tycoons who fraudulently acquired
massive government lands, contracts,
favours and kickbacks, dumped billions on the media believing that it will
shield them from the law and from all sorts of accountability, if ever it
They were wrong. The day of reckoning will come so soon, no one had

The people of Pakistan threw up a new leadership in 2018 and broke the
iron-fist hold of political/business mobsters who were holding the country
hostage for years.
Most importantly national institutions finally realized the danger to the
country and stood up firmly to play their role.
The army and the judiciary joined hands with desperate citizens to
challenge the deeply rotten status quo for the first time and rightly so.
As a result a new set up came into power and now details of how the
politicians, tycoons and the media gurus gobbled up billions are emerging.
Since Imran Khan’s PTI was not a partner in this mammoth national
crime, it has no hesitation in releasing these details. Mindboggling figures
are available.
Only the government media advertising was upwards of Rs50 billion. Big
business houses dished out many more to buy the screens and selfproclaimed important people sitting behind these small screens.
The media was up for a grand loot sale.

Since the story thus emerging is about its own dirty linen, the media would
never have told it. Thanks to the social media the shackles have been
broken and information is now flowing freely.
Starting with the electronic media, as it has grown out of proportion and
way too big for its shoes, one official list recently came out showing the
rates at which 36 news TV channels were receiving ads from the
While the full list, issued by the Information Secretary, is available on the
social media, a quick look shows Geo News was getting the highest rate of
Rs290,500 per minute, Dunya TV was receiving Rs270,000, the seven
channels getting Rs245,000 each were Abb Tak, ARY, Express, Roze
News, Samaa, 92-News and Hum News. News One got Rs240,000.
Others rated over Rs200K included: 7-News (227.5K), Lahore News,
Sindh TV, Neo News, KTN News, Khyber News, K-21, Dawn News, Din
News, City-42, Capital TV, Apna TV (210K each).
Waseb TV had a rate of 190K, Business Plus (182K), Aaj News,
Channel-24, Channel-5, Royal News, VSH (175K each), Such TV (147K),
K-2 (140K), Star Asia (130K), GNN (122K), and the lowest 105K going to
Punjab TV and Mashriq TV. Public TV was not yet rated.

These rates contain many big hidden stories about how the big, old and shrewd players used their clout and political influence to get astounding rates when their TV channels were almost non-entities or watched by very few. Some names would be alien, like VSH, Star Asia, K-2 or K-21 to many. At least to me they sound fishy as VSH was getting the same rate as Aaj TV. Channel-24 and K-21 were in the same bracket as Dawn News and KTN. Could anyone imagine that? Among new comers, the latest to come Hum News got a rate of 245K per minute, GNN received Rs122,500, and Public TV was not rated. Twenty-one channels out of 36 were cut to 25K or less. Of these 11 were getting more than 200K. How these channels got into the big league in the first place would require a close look into their owners, their political affiliations, their non-political masters or others giving them big rates for cuts or kickbacks. For an average reader of this story, in a talk show of 60 minutes, if government advertised for 10 minutes at 200K per minute, it would mean Rs2 million. If 10 top channels have three talk shows daily with known anchors, it would mean 30 shows. A minimum of Rs2 million each show means Rs60 million daily. This figure would not include the dozens of other channels, which also got a big piece of the pie. This rough calculation shows at least Rs25 to Rs30 billion were given away to the media every year routinely and in the last few years this figure had shot up through the sky. So those who previously got the biggest chunk of this big cake are now going to shout the loudest. When the Supreme Court of Pakistan and then the PTI government cut these ads and started talking of new rates, the crowd of owners, nay media moguls, who own and control the TV channels, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) immediately came out and as expected started crying out loud, as if their collective mother had died. The big media houses dominate the PBA but many unknown channels are there because they are cronies and sidekicks, but crucial voters for the big players. In return they were getting big rates for doing nothing. How could then Rose TV get a rate of 245K when Dawn was getting only 210K? VSH, Royal News and Waseb were getting 175K, 175K and 190K each, equal to or more than Aaj TV. So these stats had more to do with the politics of PBA than the viewer ratings they were getting. That was basically a big scam. The ratings process is itself a big question mark and my next report in this series will cover this subject. The immediate reaction of the government was to engage these channels in a dialogue, as it was obvious that this injured monster will hit back and try to hurt the PTI government, as bad as it could. The turning point had come when the superior courts moved in and started pressing these channels to reveal their incomes, assets, taxes paid and expenditures. The courts moved in because, as the first blackmailing tactic, the big houses refused to pay salaries and wages to their workers. The workers were being used as pawns to pressurize the government. They quickly went to the Supreme Court and Justice Saqib Nisar heard their voice. When Geo and other big houses were asked to show their tax returns and their assets, mountains fell on all heads. If they are under microscope now, others will be soon. As another pressure tactic Geo announced a 20 per cent cut in salaries of all receiving more than Rs100,000. But this was another googly and a deception as Geo could, and can, continue to pay all its workers double the present wages, and for ages. It has ocean-deep pockets. How much of the assets would be revealed is a big question but I know as an employee in the Jang Group when I joined first in 2000, in Karachi the Jang Building on I.I. Chundrigar Road and a couple of other buildings were owned by Jang. Then the number started growing and when I left almost all the plazas in nearby lanes were bought out and big iron gates were placed to stop any outsider from entering the lanes in the name of security. It was almost like the grabbing drama enacted by Asif Ali Zardari around his Bilawal House in Clifton, Karachi where all other neighbors were forced to sell their properties to Zardari at miserly rates and the entire neighborhood was cordoned off. Likewise the courts asked all channels about the source of their investments and why they had started TV channels, the answers are yet to come but would be really exciting. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had himself observed that many of the channels were launched to protect black money. As a media worker I know why many groups jumped into the TV business. To own a TV channel was thought to be the easiest and the safest way to protect their money, legal or illegal and to get instant clout and political influence. Hence tycoon Malik Riaz tried his best to become a channel owner and his interests in some groups and anchors were obvious. A crony of Asif Ali Zardari, who worked in FIA and found a goldmine, started the Capital TV. Every newspaper group launched its own news TV. Dunya owners had their money diverted from education and bucks made when Mian Amer was in government. Lakhanis sold tobacco and launched Express TV basically to counter the power of Jang Group and Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman. The source of money of BOL TV is still under investigation. Why have the bakery owners come into this business is not yet clear. How many people know who are the owners of Such TV, Neo News, VSH, 7-News, Star Asia, Mashriq TV, K-2, K-21, Apna TV, Punjab TV, Roze News, Abb Tak TV? A member of the PBA frankly admitted even he did not know who owned many channels like VSH or K-21. Many genuine billionaire groups came to the media to gain political influence and clout. Some owners who I know, would get overly excited if they got a call from the PM or the President’s House. If they were somehow ignored, the tones of their anchors would become sharply critical until the next call came. All these businessmen, and many more, have enjoyed their investments and profited immensely. But now the good old days are slipping away, at least until Imran Khan stays on his present course. How long can he do so is a question as he needs the media as well. When the PBA made a lot of noise, government began discussions on a new ads formula with PBA. The talks are continuing. Some TV channels refused to run government ads in protest. Minister Fawad Choudhry says notwithstanding any new formula to categorize these channels into A, B or C category, the slashed rates would not be raised to the previous level. He still maintains there would be an average cut of about 70 per cent. PBA disputes these claims. Part of the new formula is to list all TV channels in three categories with varying rates. For Cat-A channels Rs140,000 per minute, for Cat-B Rs100,000 and for Cat-C Rs50,000 per minute is being proposed. There is no agreement yet as the media tycoons will not give in easily. Even if these slightly higher rates are agreed to, many channels will go out of business, especially those, which have no viewership and cannot get private sector ads. But the key to issuing these ads would still remain with the Government. The most important factor would be the monitoring of the channels to determine the ratings. A new system of carrying out the viewership survey is being discussed, as the previous one was grossly manipulated. If there is no hanky panky in the new ratings system, the real worth of each channel will come out and Pakistani media would be on its way to become a stable and credible institution. Only a government free of corruption can, however, perform this important national service. There is also talk of a new regulatory authority which means Pemra as it exists today, will be no more. The Federal Cabinet has already approved the creation of this new media body, which could regulate the entire media, not just the TV channels. So newspapers, the social media and TV could all come under one discipline. Whether the PTI Government succeeds in taming this wild monster will have to be seen but what is certain is that the flowering spring season for the TV is coming to an end. Those who really perform and earn their living by producing quality, instead of political trash, will survive. Ethics will be a key ingredient of the new menu. Likewise the days of the big anchors are also being counted. Already their movements have started from one channel to another and their huge multi-million salaries are being slashed. Many are rushing to launch personal You-Tube channels. Minister Fawad Choudhry also thinks the next generation media will be digital and he estimates about Rs7 billion of government ads could be going only to the digital outlets, if they have viewership and following. In short, its time for the old media to wind up and newcomers to jump in. Note: This is Part-1 of a multi-part series. Other parts will cover politics of big media houses, the role and quality of grossly over-rated TV anchors, the corrupted Ratings system, the future of digital TV vs traditional media, and much more. Stay tuned.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 10, 2019 at 7:36am

Pakistan #digital #media a threat to broadcast industry. Digital media will soon be replacing broadcast media in #Pakistan. Pak digital media credited for taking up issues that are not covered by #broadcast or #print media which adhere to different rules.

Last year, one of Pakistan’s most watched television news channels, Waqt News, shut down, citing financial reasons. Tribune 24/7, an English-language news channel owned by Express Media Group, one of Pakistan’s largest media conglomerates, fired more than 100 employees and shut down in a similar fashion. The fact that two news channels owned by two of Pakistan’s most well-established media groups shut down abruptly was a warning sign that more channels might shut down in the future and that digital media are set to replace Pakistan’s broadcast-media landscape.

However, what really frustrated Pakistan’s broadcast industry was when emerging digital-media outlets got the opportunity for an exclusive press conference with Finance Minister Asad Umer. This did not sit well with broadcast journalists, and they criticized the press conference and referred to digital-media journalists as “social-media activists” and “Asad Umer’s social-media team” among other things.

But their frustration was not actually regarding being unable to score an important press conference, but the fact that digital media are the future and will soon be replacing broadcast media in Pakistan. The broadcast media are engaging in an “us vs them” debate as described by the website Bolo Jawan, which commented that they are being threatened by the rising trend in digital media and, because of the financial crunch in the country, when it comes to the broadcast-media landscape, things do not look promising.

Pakistan’s digital media are credited for taking up issues that would not be otherwise covered by broadcast or print media as they adhere to different rules. This does not necessarily mean that the digital media are entirely free from restrictions, as attacks on journalists and those associated with the media are common and digital media do not get any special privileges either. Despite that, Pakistan’s digital media have touched upon topics that have often been considered taboo, such as the debate regarding the blasphemy law, normalizing relations with Israel and LGBTQIA rights. This has not saved digital media from any criticism, since Pakistan is a highly conservative country religiously and culturally, but debates regarding such topics are something the digital media need to be credited for.

There were about 44.6 million Internet users in Pakistan in 2017, with an Internet penetration rate of 21.8%. Those numbers are expected to rise in coming years. It might look like a dark future for the state of the broadcast industry, but in order to keep up with the rising trend of digital media, broadcasters must quickly immerse themselves in the country’s digital-media landscape, as print did when broadcast media were a new phenomenon. The broadcast industry does possess the resources to do so, but if it fails to take steps, people serving in that industry will suffer, and no amount of criticism of digital media will be able to save them.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 23, 2019 at 11:02am

#Pakistan electronic media regulator auctions 70 licenses for #satellite TV: 8 new channels in #news category, 27 in #entertainment, 12 channels of #regional languages, 12 in #education, 5 in #sports, four in #health and 2 in the #agriculture category.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Wednesday initiated an auction at its headquarters in Islamabad for the issuance of 70 more licences for satellite TV broadcast stations.

The auction will continue until tomorrow during which licences will be auctioned in seven categories — news, current affairs, education, sports, health, entertainment and agriculture.

Representatives from 187 companies have been participating in the auction.

According to the details, licences for eight new channels will be offered in news category, 27 in entertainment, 12 channels of regional languages, 12 in education, five in sports, four in health and two in the agriculture category.

As many as 21 companies participated in the open-bid round for auction of eight licences for news and current affairs. Out of the 35 companies pre-qualified for the auction, 14 didn't take part. Al Kamal Media Private Company placed the highest bid in the sector at Rs283.5 million.

Pemra Chairman Saleem Baig inaugurated the auction. In his speech, he said that 70 licences will be issued today. He hoped that each TV channel would provide livelihood to a large number of people.

He said that the authority works in consultation with all stakeholders. Currently 88 local TV channels and 227 radio channels are being operated in the country. He said that eight Internet Protocol TV licences have been issued, besides one DTH which is expected to be operational soon.

The Pemra chairman expressed his hope that today's auction would be held in a transparent manner.

Out of the total 70, 47 licences in three categories — news and current affairs, entertainment and regional satellite TVs — will be auctioned today.

The base price for news and current affairs TV licence has been fixed at Rs63.5m, entertainment TV licence at Rs48.5m, and regional at Rs10m. The successful bidder will have to submit 15 per cent of the bidding price today.

Pakistan Broadcasters Association's objection
A day earlier, the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) had criticised Pemra's decision to conduct an auction without taking up a petition filed by PBA against the proposal.

The association has now appealed to the prime minister to intervene and stop the process. According to a press release, the PBA had filed the petition in compliance with an order of the Sindh High Court.

“The present cable network in Pakistan is based on the analogue system, which has a capacity to carry a maximum of 80 channels at a given time. But since Pemra has already issued 121 licences for satellite TV broadcast stations, at least 40 channels cannot be aired," it read.

“Therefore, issuance of more licences will put a large number of channels off the air, resulting in irrecoverable losses to the media industry at a time when it is already suffering due to the economic slowdown,” the press release said.


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