News on the Radio: What Choices do Pakistanis Have?


BY GAYATRI MURTHY (Researcher with InterMedia’s AudienceScapes Project)

Technological and regulatory advancements have spawned the creation of a number of new media outlets in Pakistan in recent years. But many Pakistanis- particularly those in rural, impoverished or hard-to-access areas – continue to have very limited news media options.

Cable and satellite television are largely beyond the reach of people in such areas, leaving them with access to news from only one state TV channel. There are plenty of radio stations available in most regions (more than 100 private FM radio stations have been licensed in Pakistan), but private stations are not allowed to broadcast their own news programs. [1] Thus radio news options are mainly limited to state-run outlets, militant illegal radio or international broadcasters such as BBC and VOA.

Access and Use in Rural and Low Income Regions

Chart 1 shows levels of access to television and radio for rural respondents in the 2008 Pakistan survey.

Chart 1

Residents of rural and low income areas mainly have access to state-run PTV and PTV World, whereas viewing private channels such as Geo TV, Geo News and QTV is far less common because these outlets are not allowed to broadcast terrestrially. They can only be viewed via cable or satellite. State run Radio Pakistan also has national reach.

Table 1: Radio Listenership in Pakistan
Percent who listened to the following radio stations in the previous week. Figures represent percentages.

As table 1 shows, Radio Pakistan attracts big audiences in rural areas and among low income populations. Foreign broadcasters such as BBC and VOA are also more popular in rural areas than in urban areas. In fact, BBC’s (and Radio Pakistan’s) listenership shrinks as income increases- on the other hand, as incomes and access to media/ICTs increase, listenership to private non-news radio stations FM 100 and 105 rise. Alongside this, viewership to cable television channels also increases , giving the privileged few access to national, non-state sources of news and information.

Private radio channels FM 100 and FM 105 are less popular in rural areas due to:

  1. Low reach in some regions- most FM stations broadcast from urban regions in the country.
    Since PEMRA (the state communications regulator) forbids private national radio stations from broadcasting news (though “soft” news such as traffic updates and weather are allowed), these FM stations cannot provide vital news and information which might attract a larger audience.

  2. When broken down by states/provinces, rural populations in Baluchistan emerge as the biggest listeners of the BBC, while those in Sindh show overall high news consumption for state radio and international broadcasts (table 2).

Table 2

Northwest Frontier Province has the lowest proportion of BBC listeners. On a related note, the Taliban and other militant groups are reportedly running illegal radio stations to spread their messages in the NWFP. [2] According to a BBC report, “With mullahs and militants using the air waves to broadcast propaganda against their opponents and Western governments, illegal FM radio stations have mushroomed in Pakistan’s north-west.” [3]
According to some estimates, there are close to 150 illegal FM radio stations run either by extremist religious groups or militants, including Pakistani Taliban, in the NWFP. These stations thus face little competition in the news arena, given the restrictions placed on private, legitimate TV and radio outlets. The BBC report also suggests that PEMRA has only been partially successful in curbing these illegal stations; many have been shut down but new sprout up immediately afterward. [4]

Trust in Foreign Broadcasts

A majority of respondents expressed trust in foreign broadcasters. The proportion of those expressing trust in foreign outlets was roughly similar for all demographic groups- urban or rural; low or high income. Respondents were also asked how important it is to have access to foreign news and information. Here too, close to 50 percent agreed that it is important.

Table 3: Pakistan: Opinions on Foreign Broadcast Stations among Rural Radio Listeners
Percent who stated their level of agreement with the following statements


Share it: