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Pakistani government starting its own Netflix-like streaming service: Minister

The government of Pakistan will launch its own streaming service à la Netflix, the country’s minister for science and technology Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry said on Twitter. “Technology part is complete have asked [the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority] to prepare a guideline on content and we will be all set to launch in [Public Private Partnership] mode, it ll be just another humble contribution,” Chaudhry wrote.

Chaudhry didn’t specify what kind of content would be on offer on the streaming service. However, it’s likely that the government may turn to the productions of the Inter-Service Public Relations, the armed forces’ media outreach wing. The closest India has for an equivalent of the streaming service Pakistan is proposing is Cinemas Of India, a platform run by the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) for films the NFDC has produced.

While some global streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are available in Pakistan, there are almost no Pakistani streaming services, with online streaming limited to apps live-streaming TV channels, like Goonj TV and Tapmad TV. This is likely due to the fact that internet access in Pakistan remains costly, as in other parts of South Asia, due to high access costs. As of 2020, Pakistan had a score of 5/25 according to Freedom House on interest accessibility, compared to India’s score of 12/25.

In spite of the relatively small size of the space in Pakistan, the government there shares its Indian counterparts’ zeal to see streaming services subject to restrictions. In January, the online regulator PEMRA put out a consultation paper that proposed to regulate streaming services under a licensing framework, and require them to comply with a code published by the country’s Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage ministry in 2015. That code prohibits a wide range of content, including anything that is “against the Islamic values, ideology of Pakistan” or “contains anything indecent, obscene or pornographic”, among many other restrictions.

In response to the consultation paper, a coalition of Pakistani activists and civil society organisations boycotted the consultation, accusing the government of usurping “and self-according to itself the mandate to regulate the internet with the thinly disguised aim to regulate online content.” They argued that privately circulated proposals from the government — to regulate both streaming services and social media — went more extreme than the public drafts indicated. Earlier this month, a Pakistani government authority sent a letter to Zee5, asking the Indian streamer to take off the Pakistani show Churails from its catalogue in that country. After users complained online, Zee5 restored the episode, even as authorities appeared to downplay the request.

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