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Pak TV spat on Saarc cards

New Delhi, Nov. 9: The third meeting of information ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) takes off on Tuesday with India making an effort to push through model guidelines on transnational broadcasting, an issue that can touch Pakistan to the quick.

The guidelines oblige member countries to transmit and retransmit television signals originating from neighbours.

Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said here today that India will push for a free flow of television signals over Saarc countries. The proposal in the model guidelines could trigger a dispute between India and Pakistan because Islamabad does not officially allow Indian television signals to be transmitted.

Prasad said the discussions — the official-level meeting takes place tomorrow and the formal ministerial one is to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister on Tuesday — would be in line with the Saarc charter and steer away from bilateral disputes.

However, in the first two Saarc information ministers’ meets, bilateral issues between India and Pakistan dominated the proceedings. Last year, at Islamabad, General Pervez Musharraf urged the then Indian I&B minister Sushma Swaraj to use her offices to de-escalate tension. Swaraj refused to comment at the forum because she said her brief was restricted to the I&B ministry but later in an interview to Pakistan Television strongly put forth the Indian government’s views.

Asked if he would formally request Pakistan information minister Sheikh Rasheed to remove the bar on Indian television programmes, Prasad said he did not foresee a bilateral discussion on the issue on the sidelines of the ministerial. However, he said: “It will be our endeavour to allow exchange of media signals and information transcending boundaries.”

The first Saarc information meet in Dhaka had proposed that model guidelines on transnational broadcasting should be formulated. The draft of the guidelines says : “Member countries shall ensure freedom of reception and shall not restrict transmissions on their territory of television broadcasts from other member countries.”

The guidelines are also a code suggested to broadcasters for transmission in the Saarc region.

“The rapid increase in broadcasting signals has raised concerns about political and social impact of programmes. The pre-eminence of alien entertainment has given rise to fears about the possible erosion of local culture and social values and traditions in each country. There is a need felt in many countries that a collaborative regional approach is necessary for laying down model guidelines on transnational satellite broadcasting,” a paper suggests.

The agenda of the Saarc ministerial would seek to extend the guidelines to news and current affairs programming too. In an apparent effort to cut down on propagandist programming, the guidelines say programmes should not contain statements or expressions that are derogatory to member countries and communities within them.

In another paper on the proposal for a Saarc satellite, India’s position is that it does not have enough justification because of enough transponder space available.

The paper notes that satellite transponder capacity is now available on easy terms. The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited has indicated that a total of 349 circuits are currently working to meet the requirement of traffic between India and Saarc countries.

VSNL has five transponders available in the Insat 2-DT satellite system that can be made available to meet telecom demands if needed. Even in the next two years, the paper notes, at the most three transponders would be needed for traffic between Saarc countries. The Indian Space Research Organisation can give satellite facility in the medium term at economical rates.

“It is felt that at present it may not be a techno-economic option to have a separate satellite for the limited requirements of Saarc countries,” the paper says.

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