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Hindi soap ban snaps Karachi cable

Islamabad, Aug. 24: Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and its cousins ruling the Indian airwaves have precipitated a crisis in Pakistani cable television. Several hundred operators in Karachi today went off air in protest against a government ban on airing Indian channels.

Operators in the northern chapter of the All Pakistan Cable Operators Welfare Association, too, decided to pull the plug on as many as 12 news channels after a meeting in Lahore this evening. Sources said most operators have complied with the decision.

Sheikh Mohammad Ali, an executive of the Paradise Cable Network here, said he has been asked by the association to take CNN, BBC, DWTV, Skynews, and Pakistani channels GEO, ARY, Indus Vision and Uni Plus off air.

“We will block all national channels as well as BBC and CNN if not allowed to broadcast popular (Indian) channels,” general secretary of the association Chaudhry Imran had warned on Friday.

The ban has led to dwindling viewership, seriously affecting business. The cable operators are not demanding Indian channels, but foreign channels which air Urdu language entertainment programmes (euphemism for popular Indian serials), he said.

Among the hot favourites are Kkusum, Kyunki…, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, Kumkum — Pyara sa Bandhan, Kehta Hai Dil and Kyun Hota Hai Pyarr.

Earlier in the day, the protest had seemed fractured as most of the operators in the capital and nearby Rawalpindi stayed on air.

“We are situated next to Pemra (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) and it would be difficult to observe a strike and still escape punitive action,” Ali had said.

The cable regulator has declared the strike illegal and threatened punitive measures against offenders. The association is negotiating with Pemra for an end to the ban.

Pakistan banned the hugely popular Indian channels in March 2002 during a bitter military standoff after an attack on Parliament in New Delhi. Cable operators had toed the government line then. They are up in arms now as the government decided to re-enforce the ban strictly on August 4, contrary to perceptions that the thaw in relations would ease the restrictions.

A Pemra spokesman has been quoted in several dailies as urging the cable association members “to join hands for promotion and strengthening of the domestic television industry”.

Cable operators suspect the government is re-enforcing the ban to protect the state-run Pakistan Television because it is losing advertisement revenue to foreign channels.

In Peshawar, army teams accompanied by Pemra inspectors have raided several operators’ facilities and confiscated decoders and other equipment used to downlink channels like STAR News, STAR Plus, Zee, Sony, etc.

All the 43 operators in the town are off air as those playing Indian film CDs for their system have been ordered to shut down, an operator in Peshawar said.

The Cable Operators’ Association of Pakistan, representing more than 900 operators, has suspended transmission of local private channels for a week in protest against the ban, terming it “an attempt to gag the media and usurp the basic rights of the citizens”.

“Ninety-five per cent of Pakistanis want to see Indian programmes. The government should respect the public opinion,” Ahsan Ali, the association’s general secretary, has said.

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