Pak may beam Indian channels again

MUMBAI: Two weeks after I&B minister RS Prasad exhorted Pakistan to allow the return of Indian satellite channels into its airwaves, come reports that the country is poised to lift the ban on Indian TV channels.

Citing the improving diplomatic relations between the two nations as the driving force for the change of heart, Pakistan's Daily Times quotes the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan as saying that a formal announcement was awaited shortly. "However, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has still not told us when it was going to lift the ban,'' the report quotes association vice president Tahir Khan as saying. Indian satellite channels have been officially banned in Pakistan since December 2001, after the attack on the Indian Parliament prompted both countries to suspend pleasantries.

While the demand for these channels, particularly general entertainment channels like Star Plus, Sony and Zee, is huge, the Pakistan government's strictures had prevented the cable ops from openly airing them, prompting cable ops to say that they had been incurring huge losses. The Daily Times now indicates that Islamabad has no objection to lifting the ban on channels dedicated to family entertainment. News channels would also be allowed in, in a phased manner, the report indicates.

"Indian entertainment channels are popular with Pakistanis and can help the cable operators continue their business,'' the newspaper quotes Khan as saying, pointing out that subscriptions to cable TV were falling rapidly for lack of Indian channels. In 2003, many cable ops in Pakistan switched off five news channels - CNN, BBC, ARY, Geo and Indus News - in protest against the government's continuing ban on Indian channels.

At at the 10th international conference of the Broadcast Engineering Society in New Delhi this month, Prasad had hinted that the Pakistani government should lift the ban on Indian TV channels and help in the free flow of information, helping the confidence building process between the two countries.

Incidentally, Sardar Irfan Ashraf and Shahzad Munawar Khan, general manager and assistant general manager, respectively, of Pemra, are scheduled to be in Kolkata this week for the annual cable TV show, being organised by the Cable Television Equipment Traders & Manufacturers Association (Cetma).

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