Posted on December 1, 2004

TV Start-Up Defends Islam

AFP, Dec. 1

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The first English-language cable television channel aimed at U.S. and Canadian Muslims began yesterday, seeking to show positive images of the fast-growing community and to give Americans a realistic glimpse of Islamic life.

“It was my wife’s idea. She asked me to go and do it,” said Muzzammil Hassan, chairman of Bridges TV and a Pakistani-born ex-banker with no television industry experience. The channel soon will begin airing in Canada , he said.

Mr. Hassan, 40, said the idea for a Muslim-oriented channel came to him while on a road trip between Buffalo and Detroit — home to the largest U.S. Muslim community. He and his wife listened to a radio program that took a sharp, derogatory tone against Muslims.

It was not the first time since September 11, 2001, they had heard this tone from the U.S. press.

“She was offended by it. And she was seven-months pregnant. So she felt that she didn’t want her kids growing up here without feeling strong about their identity both as an American and as a Muslim,” Mr. Hassan said. “So she said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’“

Mr. Hassan, who lives outside Buffalo, where he had been a banker, made a business plan and courted investors.

When they looked at the demographics for the estimated 7 million U.S. Muslims — which show U.S. Muslims’ average annual income $11,000 above the U.S. average, and a growth rate of 6.2 percent a year — many were sold.

Backers already have invested $5 million to $10 million, the Buffalo News reported.

“When we did our market research, what people told us was that there are foreign-language channels available in the U.S., but they cater to their foreign-born parents and not their American children,” said Mr. Hassan.

“Bridges TV is trying to fill that gap,” he said.

Described as a “lifestyle” channel, the network now has about 20 employees and is available across the United States on Globecast satellite and on broadband, Mr. Hassan said. The channel also has signed a carriage affiliation with Comcast, the top U.S. cable service, with 22 million subscribers. It will be available in Detroit on Comcast in January.

Comcast has no plans to air the channel in the Washington or Baltimore areas.

Programming ranges from Koranic and Islamic religious content to news, documentaries, soap operas and shows geared toward women and children, in a bid to reflect many facets of life.

Mr. Hassan has high hopes for the news programming, but there will also be lighter fare, such as “Allah Made Me Funny,” which spotlights a Muslim comedy tour.

The new channel will also offer a window on Muslim life “for mainstream Americans who want to better understand who Muslims are,” Mr. Hassan said.

Another part of “the purpose is to build bridges between American Muslims and mainstream America,” he said.