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Will private players in Pakistan pound PTV?

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More than two years after promising to open the floodgates to private TV channels, General Musharraf this week approved an ordinance that allows private sector television in Pakistan.

The PEMRA Ordinance 2002 allows the establishment of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority that will issue licenses to broadcast media operaters. The move is meant to bring in the element of 'transparency and an invisible system of accountability through media available at local community, provincial, national, and international levels.' This spells competition not only for the three state controlled channels in the country, but also to those from across the border that beam their programmes into Pakistan, and have a loyal following.

The Cable TV network, earlier supervised by the IT and T Division, has been brought into the fold of this law and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority will continue to guide and support its technical side. The PEMRA rules include a Code of Conduct for media broadcasters and CTV operators to ensure decency and responsibility, and a clause stipulating that programming content of broadcasts are to be strictly and regularly monitored. A council of complaints has also been provided in the law to respond to people's complaints, and recommendations for disciplinary action against broadcasters violating the code of ethics and other provisions of the law have also been provided.

Foreign television channels however will not be allowed entry, nor will licenses be granted to promoters who are not citizens or residents of Pakistan. Among others excluded from setting up shop in Pakistan are foreign companies established under the laws of any foreign government, companies the majority of whose shares are owned or controlled by foreign nationals or companies whose management or control is vested in foreign national or companies.

While the behemoth PTV and its sister channels will perforce have to shape up to match rivals from the private sector, channels like Prime Entertainment Channel (PEC), Indus Vision and ARY Gold targeting the Urdu population, have already built up a reputation in the country.

UAE based satellite channel ARY Gold's strengths, say reports, lies in its current affairs programmes, while the Prime Entertainment Channel has an interesting line up of shows and soaps. Set up recently,

The PEC is reported to be the only entertainment based channel completely dependent on foreign investment.

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