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India, Pak cable ops form SAARC Electronic Media Association

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NEW DELHI: At a time when relationship between India and Pakistan are thawing a bit for the better, Indian and Pakistani cable operators have joined hands to push for a regional body that would take up industry issues in the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) region.

The campaign for such a body has been jointly launched by India’s Aavishkar Dish Antenna Sangh and Pakistan Electronics Media Association (PEMA).

According to Aavishkar Dish Antenna Sangh founder-president AK Rastogi, “The time has come when an organisation is launched that will work for the interest of cable operators and the cable and broadcast industry in the SAARC region, including interfacing with various governments.”

SAARC region includes countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. “A meeting of the new organisation, attended by Pakistani and Indian representatives, has been held. Consent from those in other countries had been taken earlier,” Rastogi added.

Such a body, according to Rastogi, would go a long way in creating awareness about the industry and its intricacies amongst the general populace of various South Asian countries.
Concurring with Rastogi, PEMA’s founder chairperson Muhammad Ibrahim Rana told Indiantelevision.com on the sidelines of the ongoing 14th Convergence India 2006, that even the Pakistani government has realised the futility of banning Indian TV channels.

“There is a growing feeling in Pakistan that Indian TV channels like Zee TV, Star Plus, NGC and Sony can be given landing rights with certain riders like inclusion of a certain percentage of Pakistani content on the channels’ Pakistan feed,” Rana said.

However, these content-related riders are worrying some Indian and foreign broadcasters who have sought permission from the Pakistani authorities to beam there.

For example, a senior executive of Zee Telefilms, India’s largest vertically integrated media company, said, “These conditions being flaunted by Pakistani authorities for giving a green signal to us will only increase cost and red tapism. Does the Indian government put such conditions on Pakistani channels, including PTV?”

Pakistan may not see eye to eye with India over various issues, but when it comes to watching Indian cable television, most Pakistanis will tune in faster to Indian general entertainment channels than a runaway rickshaw.

It is this factor, according to some critics, that has stopped the Pakistani cable industry and subscriber homes from growing as fast as their Indian counterparts.

While India boasts of over 61 million C&S households, PEMA’s Rana said that the total number of cable TV homes in Pakistan would be approximately 2 million. Though Dubai-based ARY Digital has obtained a DTH licence, it is yet to start the service.

“But if Indian TV channels agree to about 20 per cent of Pakistani programming on their Pakistan feeds, we don’t see any reason why the likes of Zee and Star cannot be seen in our country,” Rana said, admitting that before a ban was put in place Zee News, notably, had seized a fair market share.

The SAARC Electronic Media Association can work towards removal of such governmental, political and social barriers, Rana asserted.

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