The Radio Pakistan Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) As observed in the case of television, the state maintained a position of monopoly in the radio sector until the2002 liberalisation of the media and PEMRA’s emergence as a broadcasting licences-awarding authority. Sincethen, there has been a steady growth in FM radio stations across the country. According to figures from 2009, there are presently 40 FM radio stations operating in Pakistan.
After an initial surge in new radio stations, however, PEMRA’s increasing tariffs for new licences has significantly reduced the pace of applications being submitted. Another visible consequence of this surge in prices has been a gradual control of the radio market bythose actors with sufficient financial and political power, that is, ‘industrialists, large media groups, feudal lords or politicians’. 57 In spite of the above liberalisation in the sector, the state-owned PBC still maintains a dominant position, especially with regard to its reach in rural areas.
According to the PBC’s own figures, its 69 medium (33), short wave (7) and FM (29) stations cover approximately 80 percent of Pakistan’s territory, or 96. 5 percent of the population, and it has a regular audience of 95. 5 million listeners. 58 Its dominant presence in rural areas is obviously linked to the low technological threshold represented by radio in general, when compared to more expensive, sophisticated and electricity-dependent communication systems such as internet or television.
In addition, the PBC has successfully attempted to establish a foothold in those areas by localising its broadcasting activities. It suffices to say that, in addition to the Urdu language, the PBC also broadcasts in 20 regional languages from 33 different cities. Beside its traditional and exclusive field of operations, namely medium and short wave transmissions, Radio Pakistan has become increasingly active in expanding its broadcasting to FM radio waves as well.
Is first FM transmission dates back to 1998, but since 2002 it has been adding many more FM channels to its services, keenly aware of the fact that FM listenership comprises about 40 percent of the total radio listenership in the country, and also increasingly conscious of the need to reach those listeners at the periphery of the country – such as in the FATA – who could easily fall under the spell of local militants using FM stations for propaganda purposes. 59 “External” Competitors
The medium and short wave realm, however, has not always been the PBC’s undisputed and undisturbed broadcasting domain. The largest media organisation in the world, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), can rightly claim a presence in what used to be British India, which predates the establishment of the PBC. BBC operations started in the colonial territory in the 1940s, mainly as a counter-propaganda media outlet to the German Nazis. The programmes at that time were broadcast in the Hindustani language for the local population. It was only with the 1947 partition that the PBC came into being.
Two years later, the BBC followed the political developments by establishing an Urdu-language broadcast for Pakistan, and in 1966 it formalised this new service by creating the BBC Urdu Service. By the late 1990s the BBC Urdu Service had become the dominant radio news service in Pakistan. In 1998 it was said to reach 20 million daily listeners across both Pakistan and India. In 2009 that number had dwindled to 13 million. This decline has been largely attributed to the media liberalisation process that was launched in both countries and to the subsequent emergence of strongly competitive new mass communication media.
In addition, the BBC started to encounter increasing problems with short wave frequencies in Pakistan, due to competing transmissions from Radio China. In an attempt to counter the growing competition, in 2001 the BBC Urdu Service launched its own website, where it also put its radio transmissions. Further, it also decided to step into FM radio broadcasting in order to gain better control of the reach of the local transmissions. The FM radio experience worked well until 2007, when a new Pakistani law prohibited foreign broadcasts from within the country.
At that point the BBC created BBC Pakistan and it also started to rebroadcast its programmes through local FM stations. The BBC is currently considering the launching of a BBC Urdu TV channel that would nitially broadcast programmes for two to six hours a day. 60 Despite the complex and challenging legal and political environment in which the BBC has had to operate from the very beginning, its fame as an independent broadcaster has earned it a great deal of respect and a significant listenership among the Pakistani population.
Interestingly, this appears to be particularly true in the politically unstable tribal areas. According to a Waziri researcher, ‘60 to 70 percent of the people living in FATA listen to and rely on BBC news broadcasts’. 61 The recent launching of programmes in Pashto has further strengthened the BBC’s position in these areas. Before the start of the latest military operations, the BBC was believed to have an almost complete coverage of FATA.
The channel can count on three local correspondents based in Peshawar and on coverage originating from the NWFP’s districts of Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan. The geographical embeddedness of BBC correspondents has earned them widespread credibility among the local population and often, in addition, special access to militants operating in those areas. The remainder of the local population is believed to listen to a series of new radio channels that have been set up with the support of the international community, and above all of the US (via USAID).
These FM radios include: • Radio Deewa – affiliated to the Voice of America (VOA); • Radio Mashaal (“Torch” in Pashto) – launched in January 2010 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/ RL), it broadcasts in local Pashto dialects with the objective of offering ‘an alternative to the growing number of Islamic extremist radio stations in the region’;62 • Radio Azadi – established in 1985 by RFE/RL, it is presently ‘the leading media outlet in Afghanistan, reaching 50% of the Afghan population across the country’,63 and also some of the border areas in Pakistan.
For the 2010 fiscal year, there has been a request to the US Congress to provide additional funding to this station in order to expand broadcasts to Pashto speakers in northwest Pakistan; and • Radio Dilbar – part of a project supported by the British government, it aims to increase the capacity of FM radio stations in NWFP by training their staff in developing citizen-based programming.
The purpose of the international community in these areas is clear: to use these radios to reach out to the local communities with a mixture of entertainment, current affairs and religious programmes, in order to pursue a peacebuilding agenda and eventually to fill the gap left by the so-called Taliban radios that were operating in some of the FATA agencies and other settled areas64 (mainly in the Khyber agency and in the Swat Valley, with the already mentioned Radio Mullah) prior to the April 2009 military offensive. These ew local radios have characterised themselves by the careful use of terminology referring to the militants,65 and by their educational efforts towards a “true” understanding of Islam. 57 IMS (2009). Op. cit. p. 22. 58 For more information, see http://www. radio. gov. pk/aboutus. htm and http://www. radio. gov. pk/new/site/images/pbc_st. jpg. 59 As it has been indeed the case with the Taliban leader in the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Radio Mullah. 24 • Initiative for peacebuilding www. initiativeforpeacebuilding. u 60 Most of the information provided in this section has been collected during an interview with Wussatullah Khan, BBC Urdu Service representative, Islamabad, 20th January 2010. 61 Interview, Mansur Khan Mahsud, FATA Research Center, Islamabad, 21st January 2010. 62 ‘RFE/RL launches radio station in Pakistan’s Pashtun Heartland’, RFE/RL, 14th January 2010. Available at http://www. reliefweb. int/rw/rwb. nsf/db900SID/SNAA-7ZS2S7? OpenDocument. 63 For more information, see http://www. rferl. org/info/Afghanistan/181. html. 4 According to Mansur Khan Mahsud, the Taliban did not need radio channels in other FATA agencies because these were de facto already under their control. These radios broadcast by using simple technology, whose outreach was necessarily limited. The average range was estimated to be no more than 50 to 60km. When the military offensive got off the ground in the Swat Valley, the transmission capabilities were immediately neutralised and at the beginning of 2010 no Taliban radios were signalled by Mansur Khan Mahsud either in that valley or in the FATA. 65 Terms such as “terrorists” or “fundamentalists” are carefully avoided.