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Last year, one of Pakistan’s most watched television news channels, Waqt News, shut down, citing financial reasons. Tribune 24/7, an English-language news channel owned by Express Media Group, one of Pakistan’s largest media conglomerates, fired more than 100 employees and shut down in a similar fashion. The fact that two news channels owned by two of Pakistan’s most well-established media groups shut down abruptly was a warning sign that more channels might shut down in the future and that digital media are set to replace Pakistan’s broadcast-media landscape.
However, what really frustrated Pakistan’s broadcast industry was when emerging digital-media outlets got the opportunity for an exclusive press conference with Finance Minister Asad Umer. This did not sit well with broadcast journalists, and they criticized the press conference and referred to digital-media journalists as “social-media activists” and “Asad Umer’s social-media team” among other things.
But their frustration was not actually regarding being unable to score an important press conference, but the fact that digital media are the future and will soon be replacing broadcast media in Pakistan. The broadcast media are engaging in an “us vs them” debate as described by the website Bolo Jawan, which commented that they are being threatened by the rising trend in digital media and, because of the financial crunch in the country, when it comes to the broadcast-media landscape, things do not look promising.
Pakistan’s digital media are credited for taking up issues that would not be otherwise covered by broadcast or print media as they adhere to different rules. This does not necessarily mean that the digital media are entirely free from restrictions, as attacks on journalists and those associated with the media are common and digital media do not get any special privileges either. Despite that, Pakistan’s digital media have touched upon topics that have often been considered taboo, such as the debate regarding the blasphemy law, normalizing relations with Israel and LGBTQIA rights. This has not saved digital media from any criticism, since Pakistan is a highly conservative country religiously and culturally, but debates regarding such topics are something the digital media need to be credited for.
There were about 44.6 million Internet users in Pakistan in 2017, with an Internet penetration rate of 21.8%. Those numbers are expected to rise in coming years. It might look like a dark future for the state of the broadcast industry, but in order to keep up with the rising trend of digital media, broadcasters must quickly immerse themselves in the country’s digital-media landscape, as print did when broadcast media were a new phenomenon. The broadcast industry does possess the resources to do so, but if it fails to take steps, people serving in that industry will suffer, and no amount of criticism of digital media will be able to save them.