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Pakistan’s electronic media role under an environment of cut-throat competition

With both its merits and demerits, media is a double edged sword. It has become an industry of entertainment, information, projection and propaganda. It influences and builds opinion on certain issues of local, national and international importance. It can play a vital role in projection of a nation’s image across the globe. It can export and import both virtues and vices for a country. Rapid development and advancement of electronic media in Pakistan has not only brought a revolution in information and news industry but it has also stirred concerns about the projection of the nation’s image. Media projects a nation’s image when it gives greater coverage of sensitive issues concerning the national security and integration.

State-run PTV

Pakistan Television started its transmission from the Lahore Station in 1964. Japan extended technological assistance to PTV in initiating its first show. The idea of establishing a television industry was conceived in late 1956 and created by the privately set up national education commission. In 1961, private media Mogul and industrialist Wajid Ali launched a television industrial development project. An electrical engineer Ubaidur Rehman became the project director of the first television station in Lahore. In 1961 after establishing a private television broadcasting company was established with the cooperation of a UK firm and NEC (Nipon electric company) of Japan. From 1961 to 1962, a television headquarter was established in Lahore and several pilot transmission tests were taken by Rahman’s team. Subsequently many television divisions were established throughout Pakistan by this team.

Lahore and Dhaka were the first two stations opened in the country in 1964. Initially, PTV focused mainly on the news programs and information and it aired shows only for three hours daily. In the early years, Pakistan television depended upon some international movies for entertainment purposes. By the passage of time, it started producing its own documentary films, dramas and teleplays. In 1971, the PTV was brought completely under the government ownership management under a nationalization policy and expanded its network infrastructure all over the country. After the formation of Bangladesh or separation of East Pakistan, the country was left with only five stations in Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. These stations aired different talk shows, sports programs, children programs, entertainment programs and information programs.

Pakistan Television Corporation was incorporated as a joint stock company in 1967 and then converted into corporation upon the promulgation of the Companies Ordinance in 1984. The entire shareholding rests with the Federal Government. PTV began color transmission in 1976. PTV continued to grow in size and coverage and now its shows are being aired in other countries through the help of satellites. The state-run PTV raises a sizable amount of private capital through TV fee to finance the stations.

The main objective to start electronic media in the country was to inform and educate the people through wholesome entertainment and awareness programs about the nation’s history, culture, heritage, current problems and development as well as international affairs. PTV’s telecast policy concerning matters of national and international interests has always been motivated and guided by the cardinal principles of educating viewers about the values that are vitally important in building a united, integrated and disciplined society. These objectives have successfully been achieved through programs on religion, education, entertainment and culture. PTV Corporation’s broadcasts are family oriented; they carters the need of local audience by showing eastern family programs. It acts on social development theory of media: That’s why it shows informative programs about health and social issues. It censors commercials and holds a conservative standard as compared to other channels. It supports government policies on national and international matters.

PTV currently stands at a critical juncture with an uncertain future, anxious about its survival vis-à-vis private TV channels.

 

Private TV channels

With the entry of numerous private TV channels, the culture of telecasting ‘breaking news’ has rapidly flourished in Pakistan. Today , we see a race for ‘breaking news’ among private TV channels. The demand for news breaker journalists has enhanced in electronic media. The ambitious race for breaking news has eroded the credibility of electronic media. Breaking news is an effective tool for TV channel to increase its rating. Frequently, truthfulness is compromised in the phenomenon and news is broken without any verification. Such unverified news on air gives rise to many misunderstandings that sometimes spread sensationalism. In the race for breaking news, the national interest is often not only compromised but damaged.

The mushroom growth of private TV channels, newspapers and FM channels not only opened new venues for entertainment of the people but also influenced their opinion about certain issues. Public opinion in Pakistan turned neither public nor opinion. The entry of many TV channels triggered an intense competition and the acute sense of ‘nose for news’ among the journalists led to the publication and telecast of such sensational news stories and footage that created hype, turbulence and sensationalism in different spheres of social life in Pakistan. In an environment of cut-throat competition, some TV channels even did not abstain from de-characterizing some important institutions and tarnishing the country’s image abroad. On the other hand, media also proved an effective watchdog that exposed the government’s flawed and short-sighted policies vis-à-vis certain issues. It also telecast thought provoking debates on different political and economic issues and in a way suggested remedial measures to resolve the problems. A regulatory authority to check the unbridled freedom of media through a code of conduct is essential in the supreme national interest.

Pakistan, where the new technologies are currently contributing to a transformation in the entire media landscape, the media had never enjoyed the freedom, it has been enjoying for the last five years. Today, the country presents an entirely different scenario, as nearly everyone can watch or listen to a news item or story. Electronic media is really mobilizing the people today. Freedom without responsibility brings no good to the society, but it creates chaos and frustration in the state. Media is regarded as fourth pillar of a democratic state and hence it should be more responsible in its key functions of imparting information and coverage of news events.

Present Pakistani media has a history of over 150 years. It has passed through various evolutionary phases. Media played an important role in Pakistan movement. The credit for the media’s great role goes to the great leaders and journalists including Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Hasrat Mohani, Muhammad Ali Johar, Abdul Kalam Azad and Zafar Ali Khan. The pre-independence media played a responsible role and strived hard to stir political awareness among the Indian Muslims.

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