Asia - Pacific
Index 2024
152/ 180
Score : 33.9
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
Security indicator
Index 2023
150/ 180
Score : 39.95
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
Security indicator

Ever since its founding in 1947, Pakistan has oscillated between civil society’s quest for greater press freedom and a political reality in which the political-military elite retains broad control over the media.

Media landscape

The media landscape has become extremely diversified since the state monopoly on broadcasting ended in 2002. There are now around 100 TV channels and more than 200 radio stations, which play a fundamental role in providing news and information to a population with a relatively low literacy rate (around 60%). Many daily newspapers and periodicals are published in Urdu, English and various regional languages. The English-language press, reserved almost exclusively for the urban elite, has a strong tradition of independence and serves as a showcase for the two leading multimedia groups, Jang and Dawn. Online media are booming.

Political context

Despite power repeatedly alternating between political parties, an atavism persists in Pakistan: no matter their ideology, political parties support freedom of the press, but they are incapable of defending it when they come to power, due to the control of the military over the country’s affairs. The government has direct control over media regulators, which systematically favor defence of the government over the public’s right to information. As the military has steadily tightened its grip on civilian institutions, coverage of military and intelligence agency interference in politics has become off limits for journalists.

Legal framework

Under the guise of protecting journalism, Pakistani law is used to censor any criticism of the government and the military. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), created in 2002, is concerned less with regulating the media sector than with regulating the content they broadcast. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), adopted in 2016, is used more to restrict online freedom of expression than to crack down on online crime. As for the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, passed in 2021, said protection is conditional on reporters adopting a certain “conduct”. As a result of these ambiguously worded laws, journalists who cross the implicit lines dictated by the authorities are exposed to heavy administrative and criminal sanctions – up to three years in prison in the case of “sedition”, for example.

Economic context

Although ostensibly independent, the privately owned media – especially local media –  are dependent on legal notices and public sector advertisements for their funding. As a result, the information ministries at the provincial and national levels can threaten to withdraw advertising in order to influence editorial policy. Media outlets that dare to cross prohibited lines expose themselves to all kinds of financial retaliation. Journalists’ salaries are often cut when their employers are going through financial difficulties, encouraging self-censorship in the profession.

Sociocultural context

Founded on the basis of Sunni Islam, the Pakistani nation is very diverse linguistically, culturally and demographically, which is reflected in the diversity of the media. In rural areas, however, the media remain dependent on local potentates, tribal lords and district chiefs who are obsessed with defending the state. The actions of non-state actors, such as fundamentalist groups and separatist rebels, pose a threat to press freedom. The persistence of traditional values prevents certain topics from being covered.


Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished. Any journalist who crosses the red lines dictated by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – the military’s media wing – is at risk of being the target of in-depth surveillance that can lead to abduction and detention for varying lengths of time in the state’s prisons or less official jails. Furthermore, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's leading military intelligence agency, is prepared to silence any critic once and for all.