Ban on Indian TV channels: Cable operators threaten blackout -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Ban on Indian TV channels: Cable operators threaten blackout

Hasan Mansoor
KARACHI, January 11 2006: Cable operators have hinted at the possibility of completely blacking out Pakistani channels if the government doesn’t lift the ban on Indian channels soon. Last month, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which regulates satellite broadcasting in the country, banned 35 foreign TV channels, many of which are Indian.

“We have informed the government that we won’t wait longer than a month to see if the ban is lifted otherwise we’ll take extreme action,” said Khalid Arain, vice chairman, Cable-Operators Association of Pakistan (CAP), while talking to Daily Times.

CAP recently sent a letter to the authorities in Islamabad on its point of view. “We may stop showing Pakistani and other entertainment channels if the ban is not lifted,” said Arain.

Local media owners have of late formed their own group called the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) which has also become an equal stakeholder in the current situation. CAP and the PBA decided to meet to discuss the situation.

“We will opt for further action after the meeting with all stakeholders, including the PBA. We will ask them to help us negotiate the ban with Islamabad,” Arain said. Cable operators said they would wait for at least two more weeks to see if the issue was settled. They say they have suffered losses due to the ban as a majority of their clientele is addicted to the Indian channels and have withdrawn their subscriptions. “In just a little over three weeks since the ban was imposed our revenues have dropped 50 percent because of disconnections,” Arain said.

India and Pakistan normalised their bilateral relations in the middle of 2003 following which many of cross border routes were opened to ensure increased interaction between the two people. Recently, the two governments decided to reopen the Khokhrapar-Munabao border in February but despite this the Pakistani authorities consider it against “national interests” to allow Indian channels to be watched across the country.

Cable operators had just breathed a sigh of relief after an earlier ban was lifted when this new one was put into force. “Most of our clients love to watch Indian channels for movies and soaps and this ban has left them all at a loss and caused us huge revenue losses,” said Arain.

PEMRA, which works under the ministry of interior, is given sweeping powers to allow or disallow any satellite channels in the country. It has been withdrawing and imposing bans on cable operators since the satellite TV culture was introduced in this part of the world in the 1990s.

Cable operators complain that they do their business in a permanent state of insecurity, knowing that PEMRA could snatch their livelihood at any time. Some Indian channels, Star Plus in particular, are the main source of revenues for these operators. “PEMRA continues to warn us of stern action for showing some harmless entertainment channels. And now our business is again at a crossroads,” said Tahir Khan.

The curbs were initially introduced by the government after a standoff in the relations between the neighbouring countries experienced four years ago.

A list of 64 “eligible” foreign cable TV channels specified by PEMRA does not offer a menu that an ordinary Pakistani easily understands. Forty of them are English language channels, five Arabic, two German, one Persian and one each Bengali and Turkish. Besides, two Islamic teaching channels and twelve other Pakistani channels are legal. PEMRA regulations bind operators into running state-owned PTV and other Pakistani channels on the priority frequencies.

This would be the second time that cable operators would stop showing Pakistani channels in protest. In early 2003, cable operators temporarily boycotted telecasting CNN, BBC and Pakistani channels, ARY, Geo and Indus News as a token protest against PEMRA’s policies.
Source: Daily Times