Dawn News Expands to U.S., Targeting Pakistani-American Youth

Dawn News, a Pakistan-based English language news channel, plays in the monitor room of U.S. distributor SoundView Broadcasting in Long Island City, Queens. The U.S. satellite television version of the channel launched earlier this fall.

Dawn News, a Pakistan-based English language news channel, plays in the monitor room of U.S. distributor SoundView Broadcasting in Long Island City, Queens. The U.S. satellite television version of the channel launched earlier this fall.

BY SUSIE POPPICK

To attract young, educated Pakistani television viewers living in the United States, a satellite television distributor is hoping that it has found a winning combination: high-brow news reports from Pakistan interspersed with advertisements for U.S.-based companies — all in English.

Since September, Dawn News, Pakistan’s first 24-hour English language news station has been repackaged for a U.S. satellite channel. In addition to airing news coverage directly from Pakistan, the channel’s Queens-based distributor is planning to introduce a weekly talk show on issues affecting Pakistanis living in America. Whether that formula will draw a large enough audience to be lucrative is still unclear. Dawn News fans and staff believe the station is a valuable news source for Pakistanis living in the United States — particularly younger generations who are more comfortable with English. But some critics say the channel too narrowly targets a small minority of elite English-speakers.

Because it is the world’s only major English-language channel focused on Pakistani issues, Dawn News appeals to younger Pakistani-Americans who tend to avoid watching television in Urdu, said Sarmad Zafar, the general manager of Dawn News’ distributor SoundView Broadcasting.

Zafar said his company’s initial research, as well as his experience with his own children, has alerted him to the need for the channel.

“There has been a major disconnect for the second generation of Pakistanis,” said Zafar. “They don’t relate to Pakistani channels that much … They tend to watch more English channels.”

This young generation tends to be well-educated and has high standards for the technical and visual aspects of television programming, said SoundView marketing staffer Frank Farel.

Though Dawn News’ Pakistan-based television station is only two years old, its parent organization is much older, beginning with the country’s first English-language newspaper “Dawn,” established in 1941 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, considered by many to be Pakistan’s founder.

In addition to its serious tone and glossy appearance, these beginnings contribute to Dawn News’ reputation as a channel for the elite, said former Dawn TV anchor Ali Mustafa.

“Its only bias, I think, it that it sides with the teaching of the founding father, which was a very centrist and secular approach that is not very common in Pakistan now,” Mustafa said. “Dawn News TV is not for mass consumption; it is targeting a certain group of people — those who speak English, which generally means those who are highly educated.”

Though some Pakistani immigrants and Pakistani-Americans do follow English-language news, they don’t represent the norm, said Hasan Raza, program coordinator for the Council of Peoples Organization, a New York-based advocacy group for Pakistanis and other South Asians.

A close-up of a Dawn News program in the SoundView Broadcasting monitor room.

A close-up of a Dawn News program in the SoundView Broadcasting monitor room.

In New York, half of Pakistani-Americans have limited English proficiency, according to the Asian American Federation of New York’s census for 2000.

Even though taxi driver Alam Khan can speak some English, Khan — who moved to the United States a decade ago from Peshawar — said he doesn’t feel comfortable enough with the language to watch Dawn News TV.

“I like to watch English channels to make my English better, but when I want news that matters to me, I want to hear it in Urdu,” he said. “When I hear someone speaking Urdu, I feel at home again.”

For now, satellite television subscribers who have already signed up for Dish Network’s “Pakastani Mega Pack” of channels can watch Dawn News along with 11 other channels, most of which feature programming in Urdu.

One of those channels, Geo TV, prides itself on being the opposite of Dawn: a channel for the Urdu-speaking “common man,” Geo representative Sami Abraham said.

“Dawn concerns and relates to the elite group … including people in the corridors of government,” he said. “Most of the stories we cover on Geo TV relate directly to the common people… Geo TV therefore has a great impact on Pakistanis’ lives.”

Though about half a million people have subscribed to the Mega Pack, according to SoundView Broadcasting marketing director Masroor Javed, Farel said Dawn News is concerned about losing television viewers to its own website, where all live footage is available for streaming. The station is considering taking down that footage in the future, Farel said.

Such a move may prove disappointing to the channel’s young viewership, which often follows news coverage online, said 27-year-old Pakistani-American Munzir Naqvi, a graduate student at Harvard University who has followed Dawn media for the last decade.

“I hardly get a chance to sit down and watch TV,” Naqvi said. “Watching it online is how I get coverage. It is easy, convenient and I can watch it anywhere I can get access to the Internet.”

In order to hold onto young, educated Pakistani followers like Naqvi, Dawn News distributors hope that they will be able to add more fun, local touches to the channel’s U.S. broadcast. A magazine-style show and a pilot for a talk show have been filmed already for the channel, said Zafar, featuring the work of freelance journalists based in New York City.

“It touched on the sights and scenes of the U.S.A.,” he said.

Now he and his colleagues are waiting to see if the talk show will continue to receive funding from the Pakistan-based parent company.

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