By Vatican News
Christians in Pakistan can now connect even more deeply to their faith as the Church has redesigned an old radio service to launch a news program – the first of its kind in the country.
The newly-unveiled Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) Urdu service was launched by the Chairman of the National Commission for Social Communications, Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi on 25 July. In a video message, he urged listeners to share church news and spread the message of peace and love.
The Lahore-based news service will air a 20-minute news bulletin every Friday via the internet. It announced its presence to YouTube subscribers for the first time last Friday with its attractive yellow logo.
“It will include reports on ecology, human rights, peace activities, education, charity, interfaith and intrafaith. We shall focus on the Good News to unite and strengthen all churches and religions,” said Father Qaiser Feroz, director of the Workshop Audio Visual Education studio of the National Catholic Communication Center.
“Our editorial policies ban news of a political and economic nature as well as reporting against the establishment,” Father Feroz added.
Radio Veritas Asia is a project of the Asian Bishops’ Conference. It started its Urdu service on 14 August 1987, mainly for listeners in Pakistan, India and West Asia.
Media restrictions in Pakistan
The recently launched Radio Veritas Asia news service is one of three Catholic channels in Pakistan where religious (Christian and Muslim) media is heavily restricted.
In 2016, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) shut down all church-run TV stations in the country. According to the regulatory body, there is no category for religious channels. It, therefore, does not issue licenses, landing rights, or the right to broadcast foreign TV content for programs with religious leanings.
Because of these increasing restrictions, the internet has become one of the few outlets for Pakistani Christian media after Catholic TV channels were forced off-air.
According to Saleem Iqbal, former director of Isaac TV, the first Pakistani Christian satellite broadcaster, none of the approximately twenty Christian channels operating via satellite, cable and YouTube airs regular news. Besides, many of them are poorly funded and can barely keep afloat.
“Despite facing decades of persecution, we have to soften our content and cover the truth to avoid the wrath of authorities,” Iqbal explained. “Only the top cases of forced conversions and religiously motivated attacks are highlighted in news ticker or a few programs of current affairs on Christian channels.”
In its 2020 annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Pakistan be designated “a country of particular concern” for its violations of religious freedom.
"Era of online services"
Last Wednesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court hinted at banning YouTube in Pakistan while hearing the case of a sectarian crime. The court objected to unregulated content on social media regarding the government, the judiciary and the armed forces.
Reacting to this, Church leaders, including Father Qaiser Feroz, joined content creators to call on the government to refrain from banning the streaming service.
“This is the era of online services,” Father Feroz said. “After experimenting with monthly news bulletins, we are now focusing on visual storytelling. This is especially important amid the coronavirus pandemic that has changed the world forever.”
According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, usage of the internet has seen a fifteen percent increase since the imposition of lockdown measures in the country on 24 March.