The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saarc hostage to airwave spat

New Delhi, Nov. 10: India and Pakistan’s standoff on airwaves can hold up a move in Saarc to make transmission and downlinking of television signals easier in South Asia.

India had prepared a draft on model guidelines on transnational satellite broadcasting but Pakistan continues with its ban on Indian television programmes.

Saarc’s members — Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka (apart from India) — were to initially give their responses to the draft in 45 days after it was circulated by the secretariat earlier this year. But that has not happened. India says Pakistan, in particular, is reluctant to respond to whether it would permit downlinking of television signals.

Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is likely to steer away from the India-Pakistan view on the issue and instead focus on making a general statement of freer exchange of media.

Pakistan’s obduracy, if it fails to respond, may be pointed out and a Saarc secretariat proposal that the issue be referred to an expert group of broadcasting professionals would be accepted. In effect, this would defuse the issue till the next Saarc information ministers’ conference.

In the face of suggestions from the Pakistani camp that Islamabad’s information minister Sheikh Rasheed would raise bilateral subjects, the Indian delegation has been asked to stick to the Saarc charter and keep discussions multilateral because it is the host and India chairs the conference.

Officials are keeping in mind that more than one Pakistani team is to be in New Delhi this month.

A Saarc health ministers meeting and a science and a Saarc technology ministers meet is on the cards.

A Saarc communication ministers’ meet, too, is slated to be held in Islamabad. The Saarc ministerials are preparatory to a Saarc summit in Islamabad in January.

Prasad is likely to offer greater training facilities for media workers — film makers, journalists and technicians — from Saarc countries in India. A wider discussion on the creation of a Saarc regional media forum — mooted in Dhaka — is on the agenda.

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