Excerpt from the 2013 National and Provincial Assembly Elections in Pakistan Final Report, NDI-ANFREL Joint International Election Observation Mission
Since liberalization in 2002, the Pakistani media market has boomed. There are presently close to 90 television channels and more than 160 radio stations operating in the country, and some 250 privately owned newspapers are published daily across Pakistan. Despite consistently being ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists to work, the journalist profession has swelled in Pakistan, with the number of journalists having grown tenfold since 2002, with as many as 20,000 journalists working in Pakistan in 2012. Most Pakistanis obtain information through broadcast media — while television dominates in the urban centers, radio is particularly popular in rural areas. Accordingly, the media landscape reflects the country’s multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic, and socially stratified society.
The country’s electronic media are regulated by two official bodies, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which are responsible for state-owned television and radio, and for private broadcasters, respectively. Print media are in turn governed by the 2002 Press, Newspapers, New Agencies, and Books Registration Ordinance and regulated by the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP). Working together with state institutions and several media organizations, the ECP issued a Code of Conduct for the Media in April 2013, which among others called for balanced coverage of the election campaign, with equal and equitable access for candidates, both in terms of editorial content and paid advertising. Although the Code stipulates that the ECP “will evolve suitable mechanism for the implementation of Media Code of Ethics,” no efficient or transparent enforcement measures have been established, with PEMRA and PCP responding to complaints, rather than proactively monitoring the media’s performance during the pre-election period. Media representatives told NDI-ANFREL observers that they lacked confidence in the independence of the two bodies and their capacity to effectively process complaints. No official body monitored the media for compliance with campaign finance regulations.
Media monitoring organizations reported to NDI-ANFREL observers that electoral issues received a high level of media attention in the 2013 elections, but noted that paid advertising enjoyed significantly more airtime than editorial content, and pointed to a shortage of election related content in Balochistan, FATA, and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There is some disparity, however, in the monitors’ assessment of media bias. The EU EOM concluded that while only a quarter of political parties participating in the elections received coverage, the prime time and news programming of public Pakistan Television (PTV) and Radio Pakistan (PBC) were relatively equitably allotted to the major political players. The Society for Alternative Media and Research, a domestic observer group, meanwhile asserted that “the allocation of broadcast media airtime was extremely selective,” with PTI and PML-N enjoying unwarranted advantage. According to media monitors, domestic newspapers, which are privately owned, generally provided a more balanced coverage of elections and the contestants. The threats and violence directed at the certain political parties restricted their ability to campaign freely in certain parts of the country, and thereby further augmented the role of media in informing voters. Militant groups also made threats and used violent means to intimidate journalists during the elections, as well as blackmailed several media outlets into broadcasting the groups’ anti-election messages. Courts and PEMRA subsequently moved to fine broadcasters for airing illegal content. Several media representatives reported concerns to NDI-ANFREL observers that insufficient measures were taken by the government to protect media outlets and journalists against threats and targeted attacks by militants during the elections.
The ECP provided accreditation to 4,053 domestic and 275 international media representatives, which granted them access to polling stations on election day.