Media and telecommunications framework in Pakistan

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Sahar Iqbal

Akhund Forbes, Karachi



Media and telecommunications in Pakistan are governed by specific Pakistani laws and regulations which set the standards, including licencing procedures and data protection measures. This article examines the legal structure governing these areas, highlighting important rules and laws.


In Pakistan, broadcast media and distribution services are governed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). PEMRA was created pursuant to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002[1] (amended in 2023)[2] and has the power to control both local and foreign TV channels and radio broadcasters in Pakistan.

Licensing requirement

PEMRA issues licences for different categories, including international and national scale stations, provincial scale broadcasts, local area or community-based radio and TV broadcasts, specialty and specialised subjects, distribution services and up-linking facilities. Subject to yearly costs, these licences are normally valid for five, ten or 15 years. Licences may be renewed provided that certain requirements are met. Without first obtaining written consent from PEMRA, licensees are not permitted to sell, transfer or assign their rights.

Ownership limitations

PEMRA sets ownership limitations, such as limiting licences to Pakistani residents or citizens, prohibiting foreign businesses from acquiring licences and making sure that foreign organisations do not hold a majority of the shares or management in licenced businesses.

Regulation of content

The Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), as well as authorised domestic and international satellite TV channels, must be run by licensees according to PEMRA regulations. Licence holders are required to offer a ‘basic service’ which includes channels with different types of programming, such as religious, educational, informational, news and entertainment channels. Additionally, PEMRA establishes rules to make sure that programming respects decency, does not promote hatred, etc.

TV and over-the-top services

While internet-based platforms are jointly governed by PEMRA and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), traditional distribution channels are governed by PEMRA. Web TV and over-the-top (OTT) TV are not specifically governed by any law, aside from the Removal Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (RBUO) Rules,[3] which permit the PTA to block certain online content and/or the entire online system if the service provider or social media enterprises does not remove such content.


Spamming is outlined and penalised in section 25 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.[4] Spamming, as defined under the PECA Act 2016, is the practice of sending harmful, deceptive, misleading or illegal information to other people without their permission in an effort to wrongfully gain. Wrongfully gain is defined under section 2(xvi) of PECA Act as dishonest intention, which means ‘intention to cause injury, wrongful gain or wrongful loss or harm to any person or to create hatred or incitement to violence’. This definition assists in determining when activities are fraudulent or potentially unlawful particularly when causing injury, causing financial damage or inciting violence or hatred. Spammers who are found guilty may be sentenced to up to three months in jail, with a fine up to PKR 500,000 rupees, or both.

With the emphasis on the need to prevent privacy violations and digital disruptions, this Act emphasises the seriousness of spamming within the legal framework. By enacting severe penalties, the PECA Act 2016 seeks to protect the values of legality and ethical communication while fostering a safer digital space including telecommunication.


A regulatory framework for telecommunications networks and services in Pakistan is established by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Act 1996[5] and its rules and regulations. According to the Act, no organisation is allowed to set up, run or offer a telecommunication service without first getting a licence from the PTA.

Obligations of network and service providers

According to the PTA Act, a ‘telecommunications system’ is any device used to transmit, receive, or switch information within Pakistan; and a ‘telecommunications service’ is any activity that involves using an electronic device to transmit information. The PTA Act is relevant to numerous telecommunications operations since these definitions are thorough and include a wide variety of enterprises and services.

Radio frequency spectrum

The PTA distributes and allots portions of the radio frequency spectrum for various telecommunications and television operations through its Frequency Allocation Board (FAB). This covers both public and private wireless providers, broadcast television and more.

Terminal equipment and type approval

Before connecting any terminal equipment to the public switch network, the PTA must give its approval and may impose additional requirements. The Type Approval Technical Standards Regulations 2021[6] and the amendments thereto,[7] which address technical requirements and certification processes, provide type approval standards. Satellite terminals, high-powered radio sets, ISM-based and short-range devices, IoT equipment, internet phones, PABX and SIM/IMEI/Wi-Fi-based mobile devices are among the equipment categories which require prior permission. However, some personal devices, such as computers, networking equipment and GPS-only gadgets are exempted. For approval requests, the PTA demands a processing fee which varies depending on whether the equipment is domestically or internationally produced. These regulations are aimed to ensure the technical compliance of telecommunications equipment and seamless integration of telecommunication network.

Virtual private networks

Virtual private networks (VPNs), encryption and other non-standard communication techniques require prior PTA clearance from operators. Service providers must make encrypted services available to local law enforcement agencies with the ability to intercept and analyse data.

Challenges and data protection

To reduce the risks associated with the misuse of personal data, stringent enforcement of data privacy laws and their enactment are required. The Personal Data Protection Bill 2023 (‘PDP Bill’)[8] was put before the Cabinet of Pakistan in 2023 and is still in consultation stages and yet to be promulgated into official legislation by the parliament. The PDP Bill protects people’s privacy, upholds ethical data management standards and builds online security. It complies with national and international data protection regulations, enabling the lawful and considerate collection, handling and use of data while upholding the rights and dignity of individuals. Therefore, adopting the provisions of PDP Bill is advised for clients in order to close the remaining gaps pertaining to data privacy concerns, as the Bill’s promulgation into law is imminent.


In conclusion, specific rules and regulations which govern licencing, content, data protection and technical standards serve as the foundation for Pakistan’s regulatory framework for media and telecommunications. To ensure lawful operation of media and telecommunication and safeguard consumer rights and data, it is crucial for enterprises functioning in these sectors to adhere to the established rules. For companies and organisations engaged in these fields, adaptability to these developments is essential as Pakistan’s regulatory environment continues to change.


[1] Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 at https://pid.gov.pk/uploads/media_laws/Ordinance_2002.pdf.

[2] A Bill to amend the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 at https://na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/64ca61bc7431a_323.pdf.

[3] Removal Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2021 at https://pta.gov.pk/assets/media/removal_blocking_unlawful_content_rules_2021_20102021.pdf.

[4] Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 at https://nacta.gov.pk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Prevention-of-Electronic-Crimes-Act-2016.pdf.

[5] Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Act 1996 at www.pta.gov.pk/assets/media/pta_act_consolidated_footnotes_11012022.pdf.

[6] Type Approval Technical Standards Regulations 2021 at www.pta.gov.pk/assets/media/notification_ta_reg_2021_20092021.pdf.

[7] Amendments to the Type Approval Technical Standards Regulations 2021 at www.pta.gov.pk/assets/media/type_approval_amendment_reg_2022_09-09-2022.pdf.

[8] Personal Data Protection Bill 2023 at https://moitt.gov.pk/SiteImage/Misc/files/Final%20Draft%20Personal%20Data%20Protection%20Bill%20May%202023.pdf.