Media in Pakistan is not fully independent. Media persons often get to hear this phrase as criticism. It’s true that media in Pakistan is not fully independent and often fails to give due importance to different issues. However, journalists are not the ones who should be blamed for it. 

Before delving into the reasons, it’s necessary to understand what independence of media means. Media is independent when it reports different issues based on pure objectivity and without any pressure. Independent media organizations are those that can exercise complete discretion in their editorial policy and are not forced by anyone to conduct themselves in a certain way. It’s said that 100 percent independent media is a myth anywhere in the world. However, media is independent to a greater extent in all developed countries.

Media in Pakistan saw a boom from the year 2001 onwards when private news channels were allowed to work. This resulted in mushrooming of news channels, which not only led to more job opportunities for journalists, but also expanded the media horizon. However, the growing number of channels require revenue to finance their operations.

Revenue from ads is the primary monetary source for all forms of media outlets in Pakistan. Thus, the providers of the ads have a huge influence on those outlets. Different companies which place ads of billions of rupees annually are the main threat to independence of media in Pakistan.

Telecommunication companies, banks, real estate developers, among others, are the main sources of advertisements for media. They are the ones on whom media relies for its financial survival. Therefore these businesses have huge influence on the conduct of the media outlets. No news channel or newspaper can dare to broadcast or publish a news story against any of its leading advertisers as it would be tantamount to financial suicide. That’s the reason that many of the leading companies are able to downplay even their biggest failures due to their control on corporate media of Pakistan.

The second factor that prevents media from becoming independent is the nature of the owners. At the moment there is a growing trend among business moguls to establish their news channels and newspapers. Numerous major media groups in Pakistan are owned by business empires. The rationale behind owning media outlet, for a businessman, is to make profit and protect their business interests. The business empires that have the cover of their own media outlets have added protection from the government bodies and they can get away with virtually anything.

When certain media outlets are established with the intent of protecting business interests, how can they be independent? Such media outlets are not meant to be independent and they contribute in worsening the media paradigm in Pakistan. Journalists working in such media organizations have no choice but to follow the policy of their owners as they have to earn their livelihood from them.

Moreover, there is a widespread trend of not paying reporters in Pakistan. Reporters working for both newspapers and television channels, especially in smaller cities and rural areas do not get paid. They are only provided with a press card and that’s it. These reports then have to not only file news stories for their parent organization, but also have to earn their livelihood. As a result, some of the journalists concurrently perform multiple jobs to meet ends. They work as teachers, shopkeepers and so on. This results in a conflict of interest and that prevents those journalists from being independent.

Some unpaid journalists adopt a different method to make a living. They use their position as a journalist to get privileges from those in power. Such journalists either publish news in favor of someone or resort to blackmailing. Using either of the two ways, they earn their livelihood and in some cases earn more than paid journalists working in big cities. Working under such circumstances and being independent is out of question for journalists.

Another major reason in this context is the national security issue. Pakistan is without a doubt a security state. Security matters overwhelm all ideals and fundamental rights such as freedom of expression. Therefore, the pretext of national security is often used to force media outlets from reporting about certain events or issues which are termed as national security threats. Media outlets have adapted themselves according to the national society narrative and have adopted self-censorship to a greater degree. That’s the reason that media fails to report different issues independently due to the security factor. A lot of such issues might not have any significance from the point of view of national security, but still the media can’t report them.

All the aforementioned factors collectively prevent Pakistani media from being independent. The only silver living in this debate is that media in Pakistan is still in stages of infancy and is evolving. This means that there is room for further improvement in terms of media independence in the years to come. As for now, it would be totally naïve and unjustified to blame journalists for lack of media independence in Pakistan without understanding the overall context.