When General Ziaul Haq exercised total control over the media, initially through direct censorship and later by imposing self-censorship, little did he know how rapidly state control would become ineffective and the media scenario would change a few years after his death.
Shortly before his death, in the wake of his government’s weakness, following the sacking of his prime minister, he brought in stricter restrictions for hosts and newsreaders on PTV, giving it the appearance of an almost black-and-white medium. So the introduction of satellite broadcasting, three years after his death, was like a breath of fresh air.
The monopoly (and the monotony) of PTV were finally broken in the early nineties, when communication satellites began to orbit above our region. If ever there was an effective means to break down cultural barriers, this was it! The beauty of satellite power was that it remained free from the reach of local censors. Suddenly, audiences in Pakistan were experiencing the pleasure – unhindered – of getting hooked on Indian soaps. News and current affairs programmes were perceived as more contentious but accessing other, even if contrary, points of view did help open up minds. Satellite dishes became ubiquitous on rooftops in urban areas. The high cost of purchase, however, did limit its spread and it was cable television that later brought globalisation to even the remotest parts of Pakistan. PTV itself started full-scale satellite broadcasting in 1991-92 and PTV 2, the first ever satellite channel of Pakistan, was launched in 1992.
The entry and phenomenal growth of digital media in Pakistan had an unimaginable impact on all aspects of life in Pakistan.
However, it was Rupert Murdoch’s Star network that took the lead in capturing the attention of the South Asian audiences. Often criticised for being more India-centric, Star’s entertainment channels exercised a major influence in many aspects of the life of Pakistanis – from quick adoption of Bollywood styles to weddings scheduled so as not to clash with the timings of popular Indian soaps.
The impact of satellite and cable was also noticeable on the print media. Traditionally staid, Pakistan’s print media was suddenly faced with audiences increasingly drawn to both a sensational type of reporting (best exemplified by the ‘breaking news’ phenomenon) and the glamour of the entertainment world. Moreover, the hunger for content soon became insatiable. This created an opportunity for the expansion of the print media.The News, launched in 1991 from three cities, encapsulated some of the elements that made the new age television so attractive. Its display and segmentation of features through magazines published every day, followed some of the principles of television programming. The Nation from Lahore followed soon after and then, The Daily Times which through its crisp editing (no stories were continued on other pages) addressed the new media audience’s impatience with long news items or features.
As cable television proliferated in the region, Pakistan under General Musharraf also opened up the broadcast media. Large media houses, confined to print until then, were among the first to launch satellite and cable channels. A greater interdependency was evident as the same reports began to be used across multimedia channels by the same group. A positive outcome of this cross-media ownership was that many stories, particularly of human rights violations, once confined to the pages of newspapers, began to be reported on the cable channels of the same media group leading to greater awareness and – in many cases – action by the authorities.
The poor quality of most TV news channels and their talk shows, as well as the untrustworthiness of social media ensures that people turn to newspapers for authenticity.
The Urdu print media did show some growth as evening newspapers proliferated. Most tried to capitalise on the hunger for glamour and gossip promoted by cable television. Express, a qualitatively better Urdu language newspaper in terms of editorial content, layout and printing, was launched from more stations than even Jang. However, evening newspapers became early victims of the 24-hour news channels, where every news item appeared as ‘breaking news’. One by one, the English language evening papers shut down.
The entry and phenomenal growth of digital media in Pakistan had an unimaginable impact on all aspects of life in Pakistan. Print certainly took a bigger hit as the internet became the preferred source of news for an increasingly techie generation. In fact, all publications quickly responded by having their own internet editions. For many young people today, the world is in the palm of their hands as the smartphone opens the door to all the information and entertainment they desire.
Advertisers, once sceptical of the effectiveness of the digital media, are now seeing the benefits of having a presence in cyberspace. Concerns about ROI, while not yet addressed, are no longer hindering the creation and placement of campaigns on the social media.
Meanwhile, advertising agencies are scampering to take a lead in digital communication in fear of losing clients to digital agencies. However, according to data published by Aurora in its annual issue, there has been no decline in the ad spend on print or increase in spend on digital in the past year. Television advertising, on the other hand, shows a decline of two percent.
The challenges to the print media are many but in one important criterion, it has sustained its lead. This is credibility of content.
Although the multiplicity of cable channels had brought with it issues of placement of ads, the information deluge on social media has created its own challenges. Advertisers and agencies have been forced to deal with a shrinking attention span among the people they wish to reach.
Even 10 seconds is now considered to be ‘too long’ on social media. Unlike print and electronic, audiences feel far less trapped and leave a post the second interest flags. One newspaper at least reflects the relative inattentiveness of the digital age. The Express Tribune is scattered with what can best be described as sound bites – brief nuggets of information that suit the impatience of the new generation.
The challenges to the print media are many but in one important criterion, it has sustained its lead. This is credibility of content. The poor quality of most TV news channels and their talk shows, as well as the untrustworthiness of social media ensures that people turn to newspapers for authenticity.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum Y&R.
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.