TV Sets per 1000 people: 20.54 in 2003, ranking 156 out 191 countries (compared to 1 TV set per 1000 people in Chad and 755 per 1,000 people in the U.S.) Between 2011 and 2018 the number of televisions per 1000 people declined from 123 to 118 in Pakistan. [Source: Nationmaster;]

Television watching has traditionally been something that people did communally: such as gathering around a single, generator-powered set in village tea house or restaurant to watch a cricket match or popular soap opera. Sometimes the crowds are quite large. These days many people have their own sets. In the early 1990s, programming on the state channels was only on from 5:00pm to 11:00pm.

Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf liberalized the media in 1999, opening the way for the first time to private news and entertainment channels. By 2012, there were more than 80 of them, 40 of which broadcast round-the-clock news in five languages. [Source: AFP, May 25, 2012]

Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, is the center of the media industry. According to the World Press Encyclopedia: “The broadcast media are government monopolies. The government owns and operates the bulk of radio and television stations through its two official broadcast bureaucracies, the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Pakistan Television. Domestic news coverage and public affairs programming on these broadcast media are closely controlled by the government and traditionally have reflected strongly the views of the party in power. Television reaches 86 percent of the population covering only 37.5 percent of the territory.

“The privately owned Shalimar Television Network broadcasts foreign programs including CNN and BBC. However, the network censors segments that can be considered socially and sexually offensive by Pakistani standards, and the government censors morally objectionable advertising. All stations must use news bulletins produced by Pakistan Television. The greatest impact on broadcasting so far has been the introduction and popularity of satellite dishes. Satellite enables access to STAR TV, BBC, CNN, as well as other channels providing important news and entertainment. [Source:World Press Encyclopedia, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

“In 1995-96, government grants, advertisements (11 percent), and licensing fees (2.3 percent) funded 85 percent of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation. The decreasing trend in advertising created an increased dependence on the government for funds. The government is also a major shareholder in the private station, Shalimar Recording.

Television Channels in Pakistan

TV Channels of Pakistan: Pakistan Television Corporation Ltd (state TV, operates PTV 1, PTV National, PTV Bolan, PTV World); ATV (semi-private, terrestrial); Geo TV (via satellite); Indus TV (via satellite, runs Indus Vision, Indus Plus, Indus News, Indus Music); ARY Digital (via satellite); Hum TV (via satellite); TV One (via satellite); Filmazia (Pakistani Films Channel) (via satellite); QTV (Religious) (via satellite). [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. ]

Pakistan TV (PTV) is strictly controlled by the government. GEO is a popular channel. Star TV helped bring pop music to Pakistan in the 1990s as it did to much of Asia. In the 2000s, there was widespread cable and satellite television penetration. Satellite television has freed people from the propaganda dished out on state television.

In the early 2000s, a dozen independent television channels were launched. They included channels that specialized in fashion. news and music. Two private cable channels — one ordinating in the UAE and another based in Pakistan — have pushed the boundaries of what can be shown on news broadcasts since they were launched in 2002. They have done pieces on violence against women, featuring badly-burned women doused with kerosene and set in fire, and opened discussions government corruption. Entertainment shows on the channels openly ridiculed politicians and members of the ruling elite.

Censorship on Pakistani Television

The word "pork" may not be spoken on Pakistani television. A Board of Film Censors checks films and television shows to make sure they are not obscene, blasphemous or critical of Pakistan or Islam. On his experience with Pakistani television, Salman Rushdie wrote censorship "was everywhere, inescapable, permitting no appeal." There was "no room to breath."

Pakistan is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide. According to Freedom House: Pakistan has, over the past two decades, boasted a relatively vibrant media sector that presents a range of news and opinions. However, both the civilian authorities and military have acted in recent years to curtail media freedom. [Source: Freedom House]

“There were multiple instances in 2019 in which the government targeted individual journalists, television programs and stations, and media houses for raising issues the authorities considered unpalatable. A range of instruments were used, including the traditional approach of withdrawing government advertising from critical publications, as well as the more recent approach of fines and temporary bans imposed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Authorities are also believed to rely on “troll farms,” which are directed to harass out-of-line commentators. The state continued efforts to enforce a media blackout on the PTM and its members during the year.”

Pakistani Television Opens Up in the Musarraf Years

Bruce Wallace wrote in the Los Angeles Times: President Pervez Musharraf may have come to power in a military coup, but even his critics acknowledge that until his recent crackdown on media, Musharraf's eight-year rule has seen a historic liberalization of television in the country. In addition to a boom in 24-hour news channels, the opening bequeathed a series of irreverent comedy shows mostly modeled on Western formats and relying heavily on politics for laughs. It's a sharp change from less than a decade ago, when Pakistanis could either watch PTV, the state broadcaster, or, if they were close enough to the Indian border, jiggle their antennas a bit to try to catch a signal from Amritsar. PTV was indispensable if you needed to know where the president ate lunch that day and what foreign dignitary was stopping by for a handshake, though it also fed viewers high-quality dramas and traditional musical entertainment. [Source: Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2008]

Musharraf used to express pride in having opened up the airwaves. In his 2006 autobiography, he wrote that he expected free media would show the face of a more modern, culturally rich Pakistan, both to itself and the world. His government handed out TV licenses like candy, then watched, often in horror, as the newly liberalized television stations behaved like they were on a sugar rush. "This whole electronic media thing was way beyond their comprehension," said Nusrat Javed, host of a political TV talk show called "Bolta Pakistan" ("Pakistan Speaks").

The show was among those the government yanked off the air when Musharraf imposed a state of emergency November 3, suspending the constitution, ostensibly to give himself added powers to fight terrorists. Most observers regard the move as a poorly veiled attack by Musharraf on his two most powerful opponents: the increasingly independent judiciary and the hyper-critical media. Though the state of emergency was lifted six weeks later, most of the restrictions on the media were not. "The regime thought that the media would be so grateful for getting a license that everyone would behave timidly," Javed said. "As soon as they saw what we were doing they got upset. My show went on in May, and they didn't like it from the word go. After almost every show, high-ups in the government would call to complain."

“Even its boosters acknowledge that Pakistani television has become a free-fire zone. News channels compete ferociously for viewers, a frenzy that has led to a "top-this" mentality when showing, for example, graphic images of the dead and wounded after bomb attacks. Critics say every show was determined to prove its independence by being more anti-Musharraf than the next. "The public debate is too negative, too toxic," said Feisal Naqvi, a prominent Lahore lawyer who says the media acquired power overnight without an accompanying sense of responsibility. "So we have a vigorous debate here," Naqvi said sarcastically. "We have those who say Musharraf is Hitler. And we have those who say he is Stalin."

After television opened more in the 2000s, a number of shows addressed delicate and controversial topics. Salman Masood wrote in the New York Times: ““Aalim Online,” religious scholars from Shiite and Sunni sects sat side by side and responded to viewers’ queries on different issues from their respective viewpoints.Television talk shows and news programs have also openly criticized the policies of previous governments on their support for the Taliban and on their policies in Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim.” Government “policies and the role of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, have come under fire on talk shows and analysis programs, something unimaginable some years ago. [Source: Salman Masood, New York Times, January 3, 2007]

“That is not to say that anything goes. The restrictions on print media are generally tougher than for broadcast journalists, and some subjects are considered clearly off limits. Owais Aslam Ali, secretary general of Pakistan Press Foundation, an independent media research center in Karachi, said that “on things of consequence, restrictions remain.” He said that included reporting on the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are taking refuge.

“Mr. Ali said there also were unstated restrictions on reporting about Balochistan, the southwestern province where a low-level civil insurgency has long simmered. “This is a big black hole as far as media is concerned,” he said. “Parameters have been set. You cross those parameters at your own peril.”“

Media Vigilantism in Pakistan

In 2012, AFP reported: “Pakistan’s ever-growing freewheeling private television stations have given birth to “vigilante journalism” aimed at exposing people — often ordinary members of the public — they say are breaching social morals. In January, TV anchor Maya Khan caused a storm of protest with her show “Raid in the Morning,” in which she and a group of veiled women chased couples in a park accusing them of behaving immorally. [Source: AFP, May 25, 2012]

“Many fled, but Khan pounced on one couple and badgered them with questions, tricking them into answering by telling them the camera was not running. The show provoked furious criticism on social networking websites Facebook and Twitter, and eventually a 5,000-name petition forced bosses at Samaa TV station to sack her. Khan refused repeated requests to talk, but in an interview with Express TV she was unrepentant, saying what she did was in the public interest. “My heart is satisfied because whatever I did was done for the betterment of society. But, still if it hurt people, I apologize,” she said, insisting that what she presented on her show was “not real but a re-enactment” of the perceived events. Pakistani liberals praised Samaa for getting rid of Khan, but their celebrations were short-lived as she was quickly hired by another station, ARY, to host their morning show.

“The Khan incident is typical of stunts carried out by television stations who say they are safeguarding social morals in what is a deeply conservative country. Morning shows, such as Khan’s, are the most popular. Hosts are well paid and eager to hold onto their audience in a competitive market. “Which is why, highly-paid anchors go for ventures like Maya Khan to keep business going,” one senior official at a private channel said on condition of anonymity.

“But Mehnaz Rehman, a director of the Aurat Foundation, an organization, which fights for women’s rights, said it was a dangerous trend that threatened social order. “This is not journalism, this is purely vigilantism, something that does not suit good people, especially those who claim to be fighting for the rights of masses,” she said. “Media should be responsible and think beyond commercialization, especially where it hits the society’s very social fabric.” In a country where young people already feel intimidated by intolerance, 25-year-old Mohsin Haleem, an executive, said media has harassed rather than empowered them.

“While the Internet, and sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide some interaction, gender segregation is common and public entertainment is limited. “The events of vigilantism by our TV channels have discouraged many of our youth to go in public parks, even they preferred to stay elsewhere on Valentine’s Day,” he said.

It is not only courting couples that have been on the receiving end of intrusive television exposes. Ghulam Haider works in a health diagnostics laboratory, which has been gatecrashed twice by reporters from two different TV channels insisting on filming the premises to check the facilities — an act only the government is authorized to take. “They are more assertive and ruthless in attacking us in the name of freedom of expression. They don’t respect our freedom and individual liberty,” said Haider, 69. “The reporters take booms in their hands and gatecrash anywhere without permission. They especially do this in the places which are inhabited or owned by those having little influence in the society,” Haider said.

“Talat Hussain, who hosts a political show on Dawn TV, is an exception to the trend and has exposed media vigilantism. He was the only anchor to dedicate an entire show to the Khan story. But while he says that shows like Khan’s break boundaries and intrude, he believes the media has the potential to correct itself. “We are a young and evolving media. The action by a TV management to fire the host for chasing people shows that potential of self-correction and self-accountability,” he said. “Any reporter who intrudes into the privacy of people should realize, if they continue to do this the market will turn against us.”

Geo News: Pakistan’s Most Popular Channel

Geo News is Pakistan’s most widely watched network. Headquartered in Karachi, It is owned by Jang Group, a Pakistani media conglomerate and a subsidiary of Dubai-based company Independent Media Corporation. It is considered the the most influential news network and known for taking sides, supporting for prime minister Nawaz Sharif and over his chief political rival, Imran Khan, for example, and angering the powerful Pakistani military so much it was placed on a terrorism financing watch list in 2017. [Source: Salman Masood, New York Times, April 6, 2018]

Founded in 2002 after former president Pervez Musharraf opened up Pakistan’s state-controlled media to private companies, Geo News has consistently ranked as the most popular TV news station among Pakistan’s 208 million people. It was rated the number one watched channel in a February 2018 report by Medialogic, a ratings provider. [Source: Saad Sayeed, Kay Johnson, Syed Raza Hassan, Reuters, April 19, 2018]

Salman Masood wrote in the New York Times: “The military has been uneasy with Geo’s editorial line in the past, as well. In 2014, the channel’s license was temporarily suspended after unknown gunmen attacked one of its popular talk show hosts, Hamid Mir, and his relatives accused the military’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of being behind the assault. The military has also spurned the channel’s campaign to have friendlier ties with India some years ago.

Geo Forced Off Air: the Military Suspected

In April 2018, Geo News network was forced off the air over 80 percent of the country. Attempts to tune into channel are met with a screen warning reading “You are not authorized to watch this channel.” It was allowed back on the air about two weeks later after talks with the military on demands it make changes in political coverage. The military had pressured the channel to cease favorable coverage of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and stop criticism of the Supreme Court. Three major cable operators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters they had pulled the channel from their rosters after direct instructions from unidentified military officers, even though the army has no official authority over the media. [Source: Saad Sayeed, Kay Johnson, Syed Raza Hassan, Reuters, April 19, 2018]

Salman Masood wrote in the New York Times: “In the first week of March, Geo News was shut down in cantonment areas across the country and residential neighborhoods that are administered by the military. Then, this month, all Geo channels — including news, entertainment and sports channels — started being blocked across the country by cable operators. The network’s channel assignment on the cable distribution network has also been lowered. [Source: Salman Masood, New York Times, April 6, 2018]

“The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority has insisted that it is not behind the move, and put out a notice for cable operators not to disrupt Geo’s transmissions. Geo officials took pains not to publicly blame the military, and the military did not respond to requests for comment about whether it was punishing the network. Nonetheless, the action against Geo is being seen as an unmistakable message from the country’s generals that they would accept no negative reporting.

“The censorship has sent a chill through the country’s news media networks, most of which have given scant coverage to Geo’s suspension. A senior official of another television news network based in Karachi said his channel was backing off from any coverage of Geo’s blockage. “The channels are falling in line to avoid a similar fate,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns. The action against Geo is coming at a time of increased tension between the military and the civilian government, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

In July 2019, Geo was forced off air again amid crackdown on free media. Frud Bezhan of Radio Free Europe wrote: Geo News's broadcasts were blocked just hours before Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and senior military officers landed in Washington for talks with U.S. officials. Azhar Abbas, Geo News's managing director, told CPJ that the channel was blocked without any notice or explanation from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the powerful broadcast media regulator. “PERMA has not commented on the blockage. “Geo has bled enormously in [the] last five and half year [s] due to repeated illegal closure of the channel," Abbas said, adding that Geo staffers have not been paid in three months, and that this latest move could "potentially be fatal" for the broadcaster. “It is punished for its editorial policy," Abbas said. [Source: Frud Bezhan, Radio Free Europe, July 22, 2019]

Geo Anchor Hamid Mir Shot and Geo Blames Pakistani Spy Agency

In April 2014, Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan's most prominent television personalities and famous journalists,, was shot and wounded in of Karachi. The news anchor was hit by six bullets but survived. According to television ratings, Mir was s Pakistan's top-rated TV journalist and one of the most vocal critics of Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies. Soon after the attack, Geo, the TV news channel he works for, blamed the feared Inter-Services Intelligence agency for the attack. The station did not support its accusations with evidence and later backpedaled. But a national poster campaign was launched proclaiming support for the military and denouncing the station. Cable operators pulled Geo from their content. [Source: Mohammed Hanif, The Guardian, April 23, 2014]

“Mohammed Hanif wrote in The Guardian: “Mirtook six bullets — in the ribs, thigh, stomach and across his hand — in an assassination attempt as he came out of the airport to present a special broadcast on Geo. Mir had warned about a possible assassination. He had also named his would-be killers. That's what his brother claims, that's what his colleagues and managers at the channel say. Geo, just after the attack, broadcast the allegation and, in an unprecedented move, also flashed the picture of the accused: the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence chief, Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam. In that picture he comes across as a big man. We are not supposed to know much about him except the fact that he is a very professional general.

“The day after the assassination attempt, Pakistan's army chief General Raheel Sharif visited the ISI headquarters to show that he stands with his intelligence boss. And the very next day, the Defence Ministry recommended that the channel for which Mir works should be shut down for bringing a national institution into disrepute. Geo's competitors have joined the chorus.

“Geo's president — a former newspaper editor named Imran Aslam — became wistful when defending his channel's coverage after the assassination attempt on Mir. "There was a time that if they didn't like what you wrote they censored you. They cut out a word or a line. If they got really angry they got your editor fired. Now they just shoot you." A bullet in the head is the new form of censorship in Pakistan.”

Geo Charged with Blasphemy After Feud with Spy Agency

In May 2014, Geo was hit with dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing a song during an interview with an actress. Reuters reported: Geo “said it was ramping up security” and scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting staff movements after receiving scores of threats over allegedly blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam. “This is a well-orchestrated campaign,” he told Reuters. “This could lead to mob violence.” The accusations pit Pakistan’s most popular private television channel against increasingly vocal religious conservatives, just as the station was emerging from a bruising battle with the country’s spy agency. [Source: Syed Raza Hassan, Katharine Houreld, Reuters, May 20, 2014]

“The cases allege a traditional song was sung about the marriage of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter at the same time a pair of shoes was raised. Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have alleged. Others allege the song itself was insulting. Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not defined by law; anyone who says their religious feelings have been hurt for any reason can file a case.Scores of people accused of blasphemy have been lynched by mobs and Aslam said despite broadcasting apologies, the station had received threats to kill journalists and their families. The accusations follow Geo’s high-profile tussle with Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, whom it accused of shooting of” Mir. “That controversy had barely died down when Geo was engulfed by a flood of blasphemy accusations.

“Islamabad High Court accepted a petition brought by a lawyer representing a group of clerics affiliated with the radical Red Mosque in the capital. Advocate Tariq Asad said his suit named the singers and writers of the song, cable operators, television regulators, a national council of clerics and ARY, a rival television station. ARY repeatedly broadcast clips of the morning show, alleging it was blasphemous, an action that Asad said was blasphemous in itself. Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime. Judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked; a defense lawyer representing a professor accused of blasphemy was killed this month. Clips of Geo’s controversial program have attracted tens of thousands of views on YouTube, which was blocked in Pakistan in 2012 because of fears that it may show blasphemous content.”

Pakistan Bans Famed Religious TV Host for Blasphemy Allegations

In January 2017, Pakistan’s television regulator banned a well-known talk show host for hate speech, after he hosted shows accusing liberal activists and others of blasphemy. Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Pakistan that carries the death penalty and encourages violence by religious right-wing vigilantes. The BBC reported: “Aamir Liaquat Hussain, who describes his program aired on Bol TV as the country’s leading television show, had been at the forefront of a campaign to discredit liberal activists who went missing this month, as well as those defending them. [Source: Saad Sayeed, Kay Johnson, BBC, January 26, 2017]

“In a document sent to Bol TV and seen by Reuters, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said Liaquat’s show “wilfully and repeatedly made statements and allegations which (are) tantamount to hate speech, derogatory remarks, incitement to violence against citizens and casting accusations of being anti-state and anti-Islam.” Liaquat had blamed several prominent Pakistanis for an anti-state agenda and being either sympathetic to, or directly involved in, blasphemy against Islam’s founder, the Prophet Mohammad.

“Liaquat, famous for combining religion and game shows, has often courted controversy. He once gave away abandoned babies during a broadcast, and caused uproar by airing vitriolic hate speech against the Ahmedi minority. One of the targets of Liaquat’s show was activist lawyer Jibran Nasir, who filed a police complaint under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act on Thursday charging him with “running a defamatory and life-threatening campaign”.

Classical dancer Sheema Kirmani has received death threats after Liaquat targeted her on his January 19 broadcast. Classical dance was banned under the regime of military dictator Zia ul Haq, who pushed for greater “Islamization” of Pakistan in the 1980s, as being associated with obscenity. The situation is potentially worse now than during the Zia era, Kirmani said. “Previously the government could close the auditorium, or arrest you, but now anyone sitting in the audience can decide ‘I am not going to allow this.’”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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