Pakistan’s media has grown from two channels, just over a decade ago, to over a 100 channels now. The growth itself is phenomenal, however, the quality of programming, and in particular, the quality of journalism is questionable. There is a serious lack of regulation on not only the content of these channels, but the business side of it as well. There is a lot of cross ownership in Pakistan’s news media, which enables a handful of businesses to control the opinions of large sections of the population. Ultimately, it injures the very root of pluralism.
There is a serious issue in Pakistan when it comes to some of the funding and money that is pumped into various media organisations and granted as perks to individuals. A lot of this comes from not only within Pakistan, but from foreign governments as well, including the United States. There was a report recently on the funding of Pakistani journalists by the US State Department, through a non-profit agency called America Abroad Media. There are numerous examples of certain journalists being very close with foreign missions in Pakistan, including the US and Indian consulates and embassies. Some channels have content which is paid for by the USAID and Voice of America. This spending ensures favourable coverage in Pakistan’s media in an attempt to shift the public opinion. This is something that needs to be controlled.
Even domestically, the former government, led by the Pakistan People’s Party, is said to have carried out transactions worth nearly 200 million rupees in illicit payments to media organisations and individuals. Fingers are always raised towards the Army in Pakistan, however, if you look at the coverage in the media, the Army is probably the most criticized institution in Pakistan. If they were influencing journalists, something that they are accused of, then they are doing a very bad job at it.
The current government is not likely to be any better. Nawaz Sharif is a man who does not take criticism well. In his last term as Prime Minister, he tried exerting influence on all the major institutions, including the judiciary and the armed forces. We all know how that ended for him. The media under Nawaz Sharif will face an even more hostile environment, while those willing to compromise their principles for cash will continue to make a lot of money. This is why the importance of alternative media institutions, like ourselves at PKKH, is paramount for a country like Pakistan.