Expansion of print media in Pakistan

Published: November 13, 2010


The expansion of print media, especially in English, is inconsistent with the number of English newspaper consumers. Apparently, there are about 150,000 buyers of all English papers put together. An extended readership will surely not be more than 500,000, which is peanuts in a population of 175 million.

Besides the three or four papers, which were in the market for more than a couple of decades (Dawn, The News, The Nation, DailyTimes), there are newer ones starting very soon. While The Express Tribune, Pakistan Today and Islamabad Dateline have started recently, there are at least a couple more media groups that want to enter the market. So why is it that big businessmen in the country are investing their money in this sector when it doesn’t (on the surface) make any economic sense?

From a financial standpoint it would have made greater sense to invest in Urdu newspapers but then this peculiar expansion of print media is supply driven, not demand driven. This means that it is not about a growing appetite for English papers. It cannot also be due to the fact that there are now more graduates in media studies, from an increasing number of private universities, in the market. Although media in relative terms has become a more attractive industry, this does not mean it has greater capacity to produce better journalists. This is because the owners are just not willing to invest in human resources. So, the tendency is to pick ‘ripe apples’ from the market — graduates from good foreign or local universities with command over the English language. These ‘new kids on the block’ may have little sense of the situation but they can write well and can be posited as Pakistan’s liberal face. Their access to the political and military elite helps in acquiring a fair amount of knowledge of the state and its politics. Unfortunately, none of this is truly backed by an ideological bent.

The above tier is assisted by a second tier of people who are better connected with the life around them. With a lesser grasp of English and non-direct connection with the elite, these aspiring journalists act as foot soldiers, responsible for gathering information, feeding it to the first tier and building ties with agencies or parts of the government that the first tier pretends they don’t care about. Intelligence agencies or whoever can pay to selectively leak information or get their news printed, picks up the better or the lucky ones amongst this segment. Those who can tap into sources of information, especially in the government, have the comfort of becoming senior reporters. The main problem with this scheme of things is that the owners do not spend money on training these two tiers or invest in making them independent of the government.

Interestingly, there are no real ideological drivers to merit this increase. The only truly ideologically driven paper in the English language is perhaps the ultra right-wing, The Nation. Other papers pose to be liberal but that is mainly in terms of the space given to alternative views on India, religion, religious identity, or to some extent, national security. Generally, the emphasis is to have, what is deemed as, presenting a ‘balanced perspective.’ This means giving equal if not more space to pro-establishment views to counter alternative perspective.

The ideological perspective of a newspaper is vital to form not just the opinion of its readers but to constantly train them ideologically. Sadly, print media in this country is as problematic as the electronic one, partly due to increasing control of the owners who are tempted to get planted stories published in their papers for personal benefits. In fact, the primary explanation for why the number of English papers has risen is due to the fact that all business and industrial tycoons see benefits in becoming media barons as well. It gives them great leverage with their own government and the outside world. Newspapers and television channels are an excellent front to protect other economic and power interests. It wasn’t too long ago that a drug baron ran an exciting newspaper.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Arifq
    Nov 14, 2010 - 12:34AM

    Bravo madam, now this is called objective reporting and kudos to Express Tribune for publishing this article.Recommend

  • AnticorruptionLeague Pakistan
    Nov 14, 2010 - 1:28AM

    Ditto, Ayesha. Wonder what the Maratic alsis are upto with the Fiday Times. Not serious journalism ….really………a billionaire family into social causes. Come on ….gaw’d even my driver is not so stupid to fall for it.!Recommend

  • AnticorruptionLeague Pakistan
    Nov 14, 2010 - 1:33AM

    Delieberate “misspelling for satrical/legal reasons”-unless one wants to be sued!Recommend

  • E.Aziz
    Nov 14, 2010 - 6:06AM

    bravo…Express Tribune.Recommend

  • Nov 14, 2010 - 8:20AM

    @Ms. Ayesha Siddiqa

    Unfortunately in our country everybody who is nobody on a subject considers it his / her right to write or comment on a subject of which he or she has a little or absolutely no knowledge.

    Print media like any other corporate activity is an outcome of a triumvirate editorial, marketing and administrative effort. Content pulls the reader, marketing determines and taps the reach / impact and administration facilitates the editorial and marketing teams.

    Once, three big names in print media were brainstorming as to where will they stand after they launch an English edition – fourth in the country at that time. The owner of the media group who was, is still and will remain a legend in media industry proudly declared that his English newspaper would be number two in the country from the very day it is launched. A marketing professional who was also present in the meeting asked the owner why not number one? All three of them were stunned! There was a silence and the meeting was abruptly adjourned.

    This reflects the marketing vision of the people in business who had spent their entire life in earning a name that is known across the globe. That was in mid 80s. Now the situation has dramatically changed. It is not a print media product that matters. It is its over all packaging from content to print to online presentation, look and pull. A local edition of any newspaper instantly becomes an international edition when it is available online. When it is online can one measure its reach, real readership and actual impact? If that is and can be scientifically done only then one can discuss about its true readership and marketing potential which is not local, national and regional. IT IS GLOBAL!

    So, Ms. Ayesha Siddiqa I request you to correct your calculations of readership of casual, actual and potential readership of a Pakistani English newspaper. Now I come to the contents.

    When an online edition of an English newspaper turns it into an international edition from a local edition what matters the most is editorial team and depth of the contents. Dawn, the News, the Nation and E-Tribune have a number of outstanding writers who can be counted on fingers. Out of one hundred articles one hardly finds less than half a dozen articles to add to one’s archive. This is the quality of editorial contents! There are research departments in every newspaper in Pakistan. Are they convincingly visible? The columnist and contributors rarely bother to go into the details of a subject they attempt without keeping the OVERALL BIG PICTURE in mind. Our contents are mostly based on an I said, you said, he said, we said and they said formula. Most of them are inconclusive at the end.

    In your conclusion, you have mentioned that “all business and industrial tycoons see benefits in becoming media barons as well. It gives them great leverage with their own government and the outside world. Newspapers and television channels are an excellent front to protect other economic and power interests. It wasn’t too long ago that a drug baron ran an exciting newspaper.” Do you think that a man like Zardari, a person like Nawaz Sharif, a leader like Altaf Hussain, an icon like Imran Khan, a politician like Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman and one of the most powerful army chief in the world will ever treat media barons as equals in stature with all the resources and power at their disposal? Do you know where did the alleged drug baron turned newspaper owner land? The answer to first question is a BIG NO and to second question is JAIL!

    Sorry to say that your article started with a wrong calculation and similarly ended with a wrong conclusion!Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi
    Nov 14, 2010 - 11:10AM

    Very well written Dr Ayesha. Recommend

  • MUhammad Saeed Akhter
    Nov 14, 2010 - 1:40PM

    One thing more the launching of English papers might be to cater the would be readers……..??????Recommend

  • Nov 14, 2010 - 3:18PM

    Right on Aysha!! You just exposed the ‘dynamics’ of an expanding English print media in Pakistan. It makes perfect sense that corporate giants are investing in this domain with no or very little incentive in terms of money. It all, then, comes down to extracting leverage on political/economic interests. Recommend

  • Mahi
    Nov 14, 2010 - 3:20PM

    So what was the gist of the article , u set up a case , elaborate it but where is the conclusion?Recommend

  • Syed A. MAteen
    Nov 14, 2010 - 3:29PM

    Each newspaper and TV channel has its own policies in the country. There are many people who read online newspapers as in one sitting the can have as much information as they can.

    The new generation of the journalists lack vision as well as experience. Though they will gain experience with the passage of time but today’s newspaper readers and TV viewers want to read and watch serious and result oriented articles and news.

    Newspapers have their own editorial policy so the TV channels but the ones that stand on the top of every newspaper and TV channel are such newspapers and TV channels who talk in plain words and hit the bottom line.

    People are not interested in reading diplomatic articles or editorials but they are more interested to know what exactly is happening in the country and around the world. Recommend

    Nov 14, 2010 - 4:30PM

    Irresponsible, Sponsored and Adventurist Media- by Irfan Urfi

  • Azad
    Nov 14, 2010 - 11:38PM

    I agree with Zahid Hussain above. Internet has changed the landscape for English papers from Pakistan. With WordPress and Jamoola now providing simple and easy to configure platforms and pre-configured databases, it is not hard to have an internet presence. Now all they need is marketing savvy to start making some money off the fast developing internet ad placements. A simple formula is also developing that basically calls for some really out of the whack articles by some folks whose analytical skills and understanding of the issues are at best poor to mediocre.

    They discuss terrorism, defense related issues and bash the Pak establishment with impunity and watch the growing readership and hits. Coincidently, most of their readers are Indians who either are curious about Pakistan or are out there to bash Pakistan and Pakistanis. There is nothing wrong with bashing both however, Indians limited knowledge about Pakistan makes them just laughable commentators. Still they do deliver hits and that is all that matters for a Net version of a failed print version of the paper.

    Daily Times which does not even sell more than a 1000 copies in the Lahore market, now gets healthy hits by publishing ridiculously simplistic articles and mostly bogus reports about Pakistan. As for as I know Tribune or The Express hardly has any noticeable sales. I doubt that it exceeds more than a 1000 copies sold in the market. But as I can tell from the unofficial stats, its web site generates considerable traffic mostly either from India or the Indians settled outside.

    The reason the English media lacks audience is not that there aren’t very many English readers around in Pakistan. The simple reason is that Urdu and other local languages papers, especially Sindhi papers have achieved a kind of presence and sophistication in publication and national presence that English papers fail to penetrate and fail to take the readership away from them. A Sindhi daily paper Kawish outsells all the English daily papers combined in Pakistan.

    In India the case is slightly different. Vernacular publications there still cater to local issues and the English papers are generally considered to have a broader or national outlook and that is the reason that their print editions reach million copies sold easily. That has allowed them to keep the prices down so that the papers are still affordable for the average readers to buy. In Pakistan the lack of readership results in lack of the ad rupees. So, they jack up the prices to make up the losses resulting in static readership numbers.

    We also need to consider that there really are two Pakistan. One Pakistan consists of the chattering class which mostly writes in English papers and the other Pakistan is hardly bothered about them. The English writers and columnist like to see Pakistan competing with the Western world in politics, media, and modernism or post modernism or whatever the heck. They primarily want Pakistan to be the most liberal country on the Planet. This basically means that they completely ignore the real Pakistan and continue to write ridiculous stuff in their columns and blogs.

    The second Pakistan which is not bothered with English media types knows the reality in Pakistan and has its feet firmly planted in the land. They value their customs, traditions and cultural symbols and do not see the west as their ideal.
    It is hard for the English media columnists or editors to align themselves with the majority of Pakistanis, so they continue to live in an echo chamber producing columns and blogs that attract negligible audience in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Jahanzaib Haque
    Nov 15, 2010 - 12:31AM

    @Azad A simple glance in Alexa will show you that The Express Tribune website gets about 80% of its traffic from within Pakistan. Best regards, (Web Editor)Recommend

  • Nov 15, 2010 - 7:25AM

    @Jahanzaib, The Express Tribune website is one of the best news website in Pakistan. I won’t be surprised if it is ranked highly as one of best news websites in the world. Your readership may be low today but I’m convinced that it will increase dramatically going forward. Both your design and content are simply fantastic! It is likely that print media will slowly decrease over time with a growing number of Internet users. You should also look into new technologies for headline delivery via cell phones. An online Urdu clone would be a good idea to increase the reader base. Keep doing what you are, and when Mr Azad returns in a few years, he will be surprised to see if a majority of Pakistanis align with your columnists and editors of the so-called ‘liberal’ media or not.Recommend

  • Madeeha Ansari
    Nov 15, 2010 - 10:07AM

    Part of the role of the media is to inform policy. Even if English newspapers cater to a niche audience, it is a powerful one. Recommend

  • Azad
    Nov 15, 2010 - 12:15PM

    @Jahanzaib Haque
    The right way is to find your own ip address and see how many hits are from the Tribune staff. Minus those numbers to arrive at the real hits from Pakistan. The service that I use is not up now but I sure can recheck the numbers but I will not have access to the IPs visiting this site. Recommend

  • Azad
    Nov 15, 2010 - 12:18PM

    This site reaches approximately 5,621 U.S. monthly people.
    quantcast.com/tribune.com.pk. this site or Alexa both don’t have embedded code on tribune.com.pk so their numbers are not a 100% reliable.Recommend

  • sarah ashir..
    Dec 6, 2010 - 8:33PM

    i m doing bs in meda .. and its really suckzzz. :PRecommend

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