English voices struggle to be heard on Pakistani airwaves
Pakistan is the third-largest English speaking nation in the world, and along with Urdu, it is treated as the country’s official language. Although most media outlets in Pakistan use Urdu as their preferred medium, there is a market for regional content as well. English is a popular medium for the internet, and a handful of popular Pakistani newspapers and magazines are published in English as well. But when it comes to broadcast media, using the English language has proved challenging.
Broadcast media is Pakistan’s most popular medium of communication. Television remains popular in urban areas, with radio being popular in certain rural areas. However, according to the Pakistan Advertisers Society, television is still the dominant medium. For the sake of this article, television and radio will be treated as one medium under the broadcast media tag.
The major medium for most radio stations in Pakistan has always been Urdu, with a limited number of radio stations broadcasting in regional languages as well. English-language radio segments are common, but an English-language radio station in Pakistan is rare.
In 2012, the state-owned Radio Pakistan launched an English radio station called Planet FM 94. However, it quietly shifted to Urdu and there have been no reports of another English language radio station emerging so far. The reason for the station’s shift is unknown, but suspected reasons are a limited audience and a lack of advertising support, which go hand in hand.
Since the liberalization of Pakistani television in 2002 under then-president Pervez Musharraf, a huge number of stations have begun operating in the country, with most of their content being in Urdu as well as a limited number of regional language channels. Similar to radio, English-language segments on television were common and this was the result of a process that began with the launch of the state-owned Pakistan Television Network (PTV) in 1964.
The idea of a standalone channel broadcasting in the English language wasn’t something that had been experimented with. But in 2007, this changed when Dawn News was launched as Pakistan’s first and only (at the time) English-language channel
The idea of a standalone channel broadcasting in the English language wasn’t something that had been experimented with. But in 2007, this changed when Dawn News was launched as Pakistan’s first and only (at the time) English-language channel. It was a project of Dawn Media Group, which also owns one of Pakistan’s leading English-language daily, Dawn. There were high expectations for the channel and its content exceeded those expectations. Unfortunately, being an English-language channel, it didn’t receive a lot of support from advertisers and it had to shift to Urdu for financial reasons.
One year before its shift to Urdu, Express Media Group (Lakson Group), another huge Pakistani conglomerate, had launched an English-language news channel, Express 24/7, which only lasted two years and ultimately had to shut down for financial reasons. Similarly, another Pakistani channel, Filmax, which was known for broadcasting English-language films, started to dub movies into Urdu in order to gain a wider audience and attract advertisers.
Geo English, a project of one of Pakistan’s largest media conglomerates, Independent Media Corporation, was originally going to start broadcasting in 2008, but that was put on hold due to the global financial crisis in 2008. In 2013, after seeing the fate of Dawn News and Express 24/7, the project was shelved completely and an Urdu-language headline news channel, Geo Tez, was launched instead by Independent Media Corporation.
During the same period, the state-owned Pakistan Television Network (PTV) re-launched PTV World as an English-language news channel. The channel was launched by the former ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party, under ex-president Asif Ali Zardari’s direction. While the channel is still on the air, it isn’t what one would call a success story. In 2017, The Express Tribune reported that PTV World had incurred heavy losses and there were plans to shut down the channel with some working in the organization talking about a merger. However, the federal minister for information and broadcasting at the time, Maryam Aurangzeb, said it was undergoing reconstruction, which was the case with other PTV channels as well. PTV World is still on the air, but it is quite difficult to comment on its fate at this time.
Express Media Group (Lakson Group) recently launched another English-language news channel, Tribune 24/7. This is the company’s second attempt at launching an English-language news channel. The first one, Express 24/7, was shut down due to financial reasons.
It is unclear how it will survive or why Tribune 24/7 was launched in the first place, considering the fate of English-language channels in the country. But due to the optimistic attitude of the media group regarding the venture, it can be considered something positive. In a country where there is no concept of subscription, outlets rely heavily on support from advertisers. Let’s hope that the advertisers share the media group’s optimism.
It is uncertain whether Tribune 24/7 will cater only to the Pakistani English-language speaking population or adopt the model of channels like Qatar’s Al-Jazeera English and Iran’s Press TV. If the latter is the case, it could be a good step for the whole country, and if it does manage to achieve success, it might the pave the way for other English-language television and radio outlets in the country.
It is important to mention that unlike Al-Jazeera English and Press TV, which are backed by the governments of their respective countries, Tribune 24/7 is a private venture. Nevertheless, considering the enthusiasm of the people behind this particular channel, one should at least give it the benefit of the doubt.