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2/7/04 - NEW LOOK FOR PAKISTAN'S MEDIA - 2004-01-30

Independent television channels are giving Pakistanis a new way to look at themselves and the world. Since 2002, nearly two dozen private media companies have been licensed to broadcast in Pakistan. The most successful is Geo TV.

Based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Geo TV has attracted a large and enthusiastic audience in Pakistan. Adnan Rehmat is director of the Pakistan branch of Internews, a nonprofit organization that promotes independent media around the world. "In a very short time," said Mr. Rehmat, "this will be a very different Pakistan. And history will say Geo changed it all."

Geo TV offers entertainment, news, and political programming not available on Pakistan's state-run television, P-T-V. Geo covers opposition parties that are often excluded from coverage by P-T-V. Geo's entertainment programming features Indian actors and films banned by Pakistani government censors. Geo's satires of government officials and discussions of controversial issues, such as religious belief and practices, are apparent hits. One of Geo TV's most popular programs features a discussion between Shiite and Sunni clerics with viewers calling in. In 2003, Geo TV conducted an opinion poll that found that about half of the Pakistanis questioned favored a review of Pakistan's policy of non-recognition of Israel.

Mian Muhammed Javed, chairman of the Pakistan Regulatory Authority, says independent broadcasting is good for the country. "Media creates awareness [and] ensures transparency and accountability," he said. Geo TV's news director, Azhar Abbas, says Geo's reporting is making Pakistani officials more responsive. "No government in the past had the experience of dealing with such a fast media," he said. "Now they have to give answers."

By opening its broadcast media to the private sector, Pakistan will reap the benefits that President George W. Bush says come from freedom:

"The prosperity and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by the extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity -- and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations."

As Wajiha Shahid, a twenty-eight-year-old homemaker, said, channels like Geo TV "cater for the new generation."