Newsweek Eyes Pakistan Media Market
Newsweek Pakistan Edition
Newsweek Pakistan will be published under license by AG Publications, a privately-owned media company in Pakistan. Fasih Ahmed, who has reported for The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek International, will be the editor of Newsweek Pakistan. Ahmed won a New York Press Club award in 2008 for Newsweek's coverage of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Initially, there will be 30,000 copies of Pakistan edition printed each week.
Pakistan's Media Boom
The current media revolution sweeping the nation began ten years ago when Pakistan had just one television channel, according to the UK's Prospect Magazine. Today it has over 100. Together they have begun to open up a country long shrouded by political, moral and religious censorship—taking on the government, breaking social taboos and, most recently, pushing a new national consensus against the Taliban. The birth of privately owned commercial media has been enabled by the Musharraf-era deregulation, and funded by the tremendous growth in revenue from advertising targeted at the burgeoning urban middle class consumers. Analysts at Standard Charter Bank estimated in 2007 that Pakistan had 30 million people with incomes exceeding $10,000 a year. With television presence in over 16 million households accounting for 68% of the population in 2009, the electronic media have also helped inform and empower many rural Pakistanis, including women.
With an increase of 38% over 2008, the television advertising revenue for 2009 in Pakistan was Rs 16.4 billion ((US $200m), accounting for about half of the total ad market during the year. The TV ad revenue is continuing to rise as a percentage of total ad revenue, mostly at the expense of the print media ads. The biggest spenders in 2009 were the telecom companies with Rs 8 billion, followed closely by fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector with Rs. 7 billion, as reported by Pakistan's GeoTV channel. FMCG products, as opposed to consumer durables such as home appliances, are generally low cost and replaced or fully used up over a short period of days, weeks, or months, and within one year. Other important sectors contributing to ad revenue are financial services and real estate, but these sectors have experienced significant slowdown with the current economic slump.
According to Daily Times, Chairman Mushtaq Malik of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has said that the cable television sector “is the fast growing segment among the electronic media ventures”. In the first 100 days of the current government, he has claimed that new licenses for 16 satellite TV channels, 10 FM radio stations, and 232 cable TV channels have been granted. It is anticipated that this would lead to additional investment worth Rs. 2.5 billion, generating 4000 additional jobs in this sector. The cable television sector alone is employing some 30,000 people in the country.
Foreign media, such as the business channel CNBC Pakistan, have also found a niche with the stellar performance and increased viewer and investor interest in Karachi stock exchange in the last decade. The Gallup Pakistan estimates that the number of TV viewers age 10 and above has increased from 63 million in 2004 to 86 million in 2009. Though exact numbers are hard to find, it is estimated that the rapid growth of Pakistan's media market over the last decade has attracted significant investment in the range of billions of dollars, and produced hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. There are 150 advertising agencies and 74 production companies. Given the rising power of the media to shape Pakistani society, public opinion and government policy, it is important to have greater transparency on sources of investments and revenue in the media business.
More than 100 private FM radio stations have been licensed in the last ten years. Most of them are known for providing basic entertainment - easy listening, popular music, cooking recipes, etc. But some FM stations are also providing useful information through talk shows by experts on legal, psychological and health matters; a community radio station in Lakki Marwat near FATA has a show on modern farming techniques like drip irrigation. In Karachi, at a discussion on organ transplant and organ donation, a caller who identified herself as a doctor, pointed out that those who denounce the practice as un-Islamic forget that technically even blood is defined as an organ.
On a national level, television is the dominant communication medium in Pakistan. But radio listenership in Pakistan remains strong in certain areas of the country. This is particularly the case in rural areas and less economically developed provinces, according to audiencescapes.org.
Specifically, in the rural areas of the Baluchistan province, 46 percent of respondents said they listen to the radio at least weekly, rivaling rural television viewership at 47 percent. While in rural areas of the other three provinces surveyed (the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, and Sind), radio listenership is strong but is still lower than TV viewership.
In regions such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA, not surveyed), where the Taliban has held control over certain areas for a significant period of time, radio transmissions are often people’s main source of entertainment and news, mainly because religious extremists disrupt television broadcasts through frequent sabotage. Mainstream newspapers are also not available; many villages are difficult to access and selling publications can be risky for the seller. In addition, within the FATA region and much of the NWFP, television sets are simply too expensive and access to electricity is spotty.
Although broadcast and cable media are the primary sources of information for most Pakistanis, the press has a long history in the country and a contentious relationship with successive governments. The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) boasts more than 262 member publications in print,. Overall estimates indicate that there are about 1,000 daily newspapers, most of which are in English or Urdu. A BBC survey in 2008 found that 42% of men and only 13% of women read newspapers regularly. Pakistan's press is among the most outspoken in South Asia, although its influence is limited by a literacy level of only 56%.
World telecoms body the ITU estimated in March 2008 that there were 17.5 million internet users, and the Internet access is continuing to grow rapidly. In addition to the established print, radio and television media websites, the Internet is also providing a platform for activists and emerging journalists to express their views through myriad online publications, blogs and social networking sites. With over 56% penetration of mobile phones in Pakistan, the widespread availability and affordability of modern communication technology has helped generate tremendous interest in the use of voice calls, photo or video uploading and text messaging to share news, opinions and ideas broadly.
Pakistan has a population of over 170 million and daily sales of only about 100,000 copies of English-language publications. The English language print media is dominated by local newspapers and magazines published by Dawn, Jang and Nawai Waqt media empires. The entry of Newsweek's Pakistan edition in the market will offer both local and international content, and is expected to start off with a print run of 30,000 copies, according to the Financial Times.
The media boom in Pakistan has also brought attention to a new crop of Pakistani authors writing in English. Names such as Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows), Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Nadeem Aslam (The Wasted Vigil) have been making waves in literary circles and winning prizes in London and New York, according to the Guardian newspaper.
I personally experienced the pervasive effects of Pakistan's media boom last summer when I visited the country. I saw multiple, competing channels catering to almost every niche, whim and taste---from news, politics, education, health, sports, comedy and talk shows to channels dedicated to cooking, fashion, fitness, music, business, religion, local languages and cultures etc. The media have had a profound influence on how many young people learn, talk, dress and behave, and emulate the outspoken media personalities, various experts, actors, preachers, singers, sportsmen, celebrities and fashion models. The growth in Pakistan's media market has resulted in more useful information, more advertising, more competition and more choice for the public.
Pakistan finds itself in the midst of many crises, ranging from a deep sense of insecurity and economic stagnation to low levels of human development and insufficient access to basic necessities of life such as proper nutrition, education and health care. My hope is that the mass media will effectively play a responsible role to inform and educate Pakistanis on the fundamental issues of poor governance in Pakistan, and help in shaping the debate and policies to solve some of the most serious problems facing the nation today.
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