At least eleven Christian television stations in Pakistan – including Gawahi TV, which Barnabas Fund has supported – have been blocked from broadcasting via cable. The move, initiated by the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), is a major setback for Pakistan’s minority Christian community, many of whom rely on the channels for spiritual input.
PEMRA does not issue licences for religious channels. Many Christian broadcasters therefore operate externally, but for those based in Pakistan licences are unavailable. Christians complain that they are being unfairly targeted as other unlicensed channels, including Islamic ones, are allowed to continue broadcasting. In an email to Barnabas Fund, Sarfraz William, the head of Gawahi TV, called the move a “huge act of discrimination against Christian channels”.
PEMRA rejects this suggestion. Speaking to The Express Tribune, Sheikh Tahir, the regulator’s general manager, said, “There are many other Indian channels which are banned and there is no special campaign against minorities.”
Gawahi TV also broadcasts via satellite from another country, so not all of its viewers have been affected by the ban. However, the channel does intend to take legal action. Sarfraz said, “We see Gawahi TV and media ministry as a powerful tool to equip the body of Christ in Pakistan.”
Barnabas Fund helped enable Gawahi TV (whose name means “testimony”) to replace video cameras, computers and an air-conditioning unit following a suspected arson attack on its offices in November 2015. Christian stations like Gawahi TV are a vital support to Christians throughout Pakistan, especially those who do not have a church or a pastor to teach them. Speaking of Gawahi TV, Safia said, “There is no church in our area but we thank God that since our cable operator started Gawahi television in our area, we felt that we have church in our home.”
The other television stations affected by the ban are Isaac TV, God Bless TV, Barkat TV, Praise TV, Zindagi TV, Shine TV, Jesus TV, Healing TV, Khushkhabari TV and Catholic TV.