Pakistan's Media and Publishing Boom

With the planned September launch of its Pakistan edition, Newsweek magazine is the latest publication to join Pakistan's media revolution, according to Newsweek Pakistan will be the first licensed international news magazine for the country and the eighth local edition under the Washington Post Co.-owned Newsweek brand. Other country editions published by Newsweek include those in Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Mexico, Poland, Russia and Turkey. In addition to featuring more local content, the country editions target local and international advertisers with special pricing to be competitive in the targeted media markets.

Newsweek Pakistan will be published under license by AG Publications, a privately-owned media company in Pakistan. Fasih Ahmed, who has reported for The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek International, will be the editor of Newsweek Pakistan. Ahmed won a New York Press Club award in 2008 for Newsweek's coverage of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Initially, there will be 30,000 copies of Pakistan edition printed each week.

The current media revolution sweeping the nation began ten years ago when Pakistan had just one television channel, according to the UK's Prospect Magazine. Today it has over 100. Together they have begun to open up a country long shrouded by political, moral and religious censorship—taking on the government, breaking social taboos and, most recently, pushing a new national consensus against the Taliban. The birth of privately owned commercial media has been enabled by the Musharraf-era deregulation, and funded by the tremendous growth in revenue from advertising targeted at the burgeoning urban middle class consumers.

According to Daily Times, Chairman Mushtaq Malik of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has said that the cable television sector “is the fast growing segment among the electronic media ventures”. In the first 100 days of the current government, he has claimed that new licenses for 16 satellite TV channels, 10 FM radio stations, and 232 cable TV channels have been granted. It is anticipated that this would lead to additional investment worth Rs. 2.5 billion, generating 4000 additional jobs in this sector. The cable television sector alone is employing some 30,000 people in the country.

Foreign media, such as the business channel CNBC Pakistan, have also found a niche with the stellar performance and increased viewer and investor interest in Karachi stock exchange in the last decade. The Gallup Pakistan estimates that the number of TV viewers age 10 and above has increased from 63 million in 2004 to 86 million in 2009. Though exact numbers are hard to find, it is estimated that the rapid growth of Pakistan's media market over the last decade has attracted significant investment in the range of billions of dollars, and produced hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. There are 150 advertising agencies and 74 production companies. Given the rising power of the media to shape Pakistani society, public opinion and government policy, it is important to have greater transparency on sources of investments and revenue in the media business.

More than 100 private FM radio stations have been licensed in the last ten years.
Scores of unlicensed FM stations are said to operate in the tribal areas of North-West Frontier Province. They are usually operated by clerics, some of whom are accused of promoting violence.

There are more than 262 publications in print, according to All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS). Pakistan's press is among the most outspoken in South Asia, although its influence is limited by a literacy level of only 56%.

World telecoms body the ITU estimated in March 2008 that there were 17.5 million internet users, and the Internet access is continuing to grow rapidly. In addition to the established print, radio and television media websites, the Internet is also providing a platform for activists and emerging journalists to express their views through myriad online publications, blogs and social networking sites. With over 56% penetration of mobile phones in Pakistan, the widespread availability and affordability of modern communication technology has helped generate tremendous interest in the use of voice calls, photo or video uploading and text messaging to share news, opinions and ideas broadly.

Pakistan has a population of over 170 million and daily sales of only about 100,000 copies of English-language publications. The English language print media is dominated by local newspapers and magazines published by Dawn, Jang and Nawai Waqt media empires. The entry of Newsweek's Pakistan edition in the market will offer both local and international content, and is expected to start off with a print run of 30,000 copies, according to the Financial Times.

The media boom in Pakistan has also brought attention to a new crop of Pakistani writers writing in English. Names such as Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows), Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Nadeem Aslam (The Wasted Vigil) have been making waves in literary circles and winning prizes in London and New York, according to the Guardian newspaper.

I personally experienced the pervasive effects of Pakistan's media boom last summer when I visited the country. I saw multiple, competing channels catering to almost every niche, whim and taste---from news, sports, comedy and talk shows to channels dedicated to cooking, fashion, fitness, music, business, religion, local languages and cultures etc. The media have had a profound influence on how many young people talk, dress and behave, emulating the outspoken media personalities, actors, preachers, singers, sportsmen, celebrities and fashion models. The growth in Pakistan's media market has resulted in more advertising, more competition and more choice.

Pakistan finds itself in the midst of many crises, ranging from a deep sense of insecurity and economic stagnation to low levels of human development and insufficient access to basic necessities of life such as proper nutrition, education and health care. My hope is that the mass media will effectively play a responsible role to inform and educate Pakistanis on the fundamental issues of poor governance in Pakistan, and help in shaping the debate and policies to solve some of the most serious problems facing the nation today.

Related Links:

Why is Democracy Failing in Pakistan?

Poor Governance in Pakistan

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

The Real News From Pakistan

Pakistan's Economic Stagnation

Karachi Tops Mumbai in Stock Performance

Newsweek Pakistan Edition Launch

Brief History of Media in Pakistan

Eleven Days in Karachi

Pakistan Country Profile By BBC

Pakistan Media Cyberletter

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Comment by Riaz Haq on March 24, 2014 at 8:00am

Here's a Wall Street Journal story about the heyday of Lollywood:

Sadar Iqbal once worked 18 hours a day producing hand drawn posters for Pakistan’s booming film industry.

“At that time I would not have been able to talk to you,” he said sitting as his artist’s desk in his small studio in Lahore, “I was too busy.

Now Mr. Iqbal, 68, who is Pakistan’s last remaining hand-drawn film poster artist, has plenty of time to chat.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore had a booming film industry. Nicknamed “Lollywood”, the city produced hundreds of films a year and the road where Mr. Iqbal’s small studio sits was lined with more than 400 artist studios all churning out hand drawn posters for Pakistani-made films, says Mr. Iqbal.

The area is known as Royal Park and buttresses onto Abbott Road, a short stretch that used be home to 20 cinemas. Today, there are six.

After nearly 30 years of neglect thanks to repressive government policies and creeping Islamic fundamentalism in parts of the country, the art form has all but died. Mr. Iqbal now makes a living doing commissioned paintings from his studio, surrounded by the film posters of a nearly-forgotten era.

The neighboring studios in Royal Park have been replaced by rows of small printing shops.

Mr. Iqbal started working aged 17, in what was then his father’s studio. He says he would to come there every day after school, and learn the art form from his father. Mr. Iqbal uses pencil and watercolors, and when Lollywood was booming, he’d produce at least four posters a film.

It’s a subtle technique, he explains, “I am the crowd puller of the film. When someone sees the poster of the film, they want to come and see the film.”

Most of his posters are laden with visual metaphors: the film’s villain appears in monochrome next to the colored image of the beautiful heroine. A rose tangled around the film’s title weeps blood, symbolizing the pain of love.

Last year, Mr. Iqbal’s talents were called on once again. The directors of the Pakistani-made film, “Zinda Bhaag”, asked him to draw the poster for the movie.

The film is set in Lahore and co-director Meenu Gaur describes it as a stylistic tribute to the Lollywood films of the 1970s. It premiered in September and was Pakistan’s first entry for best foreign language film at the Oscars for 50 years.

“Zinda Bhaag” is part of a nascent revival in the domestic film industry, which has been partly supported by a recent boom of Western-style multiplex cinemas across the country. In the past seven years the number of screens has surged from just 20 to 104, according to distributors and cinema owners.

“People started talking about a revival in Pakistani cinema with the release of ‘Khuda Kay Liye’ (In the name of God),” said Ms. Gaur the co-director, referring to the 2007 film by Pakistani director Shoaib Mansoor. The film received rave reviews in Pakistan and went on to gross $10 million worldwide. “But then it was a hope,” Ms. Gaur said.

Now, she says, the revival is actually happening. In 2013, seven Pakistani-made films were released, and there are currently 25 in production. But most film projects are funded through generous donations from altruistic backers and grants, rather than being driven by market forces. “Zinda Bhaag” received funding from Let’s Talk Men, a film initiative supported by various United Nations agencies.

The artist Mr. Iqbal isn’t very hopefully that a renaissance in Pakistani cinema will rekindle his art form though. He says the new multiplexes are just about money and have no appreciation of art.

“There is no aesthetic investor,” he said, referring to modern movie theaters. “The tragedy is that the investors have just brought property and built cinemas..

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 15, 2014 at 9:10pm

Here's an excerpt of a NY Times Op Ed by Bina Shah on new media censorship in Pakistan:

But having experienced decades of political oppression and dictatorship, Pakistanis are used to finding alternative ways to get access to and spread information. So when YouTube was shuttered, they started using proxies to gain access to it, while also uploading to other video-sharing sites.

Of course, the government began blocking the most popular proxies, but couldn’t always keep up. Even today, YouTube occasionally becomes accessible on some Internet providers for a few hours.

In any event, young Pakistanis, having been raised on satellite television, the Internet and smartphones, already have an insatiable thirst for information and the public space in which to think freely. So their appetite has been whetted, and many of them now are challenging the establishment’s societal mores.

“We are building a movement of defiance among the youth and larger Internet users by providing them tools to circumvent the government’s policy of censorship,” says Shahzad Ahmad, the country director of Bytes4All, an organization of young Pakistanis who use digital technology to promote human rights and sustainable development.

Since 2012, Bytes4All has been petitioning the Lahore High Court for a writ against the ban on YouTube, and lately the issue has become dramatically politicized; Mr. Ahmad has accused government lawyers of threatening that if YouTube is opened, there will be “bloodshed on the streets of Pakistan.”

Anusha Rehman Khan, state minister for information technology and telecom, was ordered to appear at a hearing in March, but failed to show up; it was the third time she had done so. Instead, lawyers from banned religious outfits appeared in court, an indication of how far the government would go to sway the judges and intimidate Bytes4All.
Alongside the legal battle, an irreverent social media campaign called #KholoBC has also emerged. Engineered by the Pakistan for All movement, a collective of young Pakistani tech enthusiasts, it features a song released by the Pakistani musician Talal Qureshi, the rapper Adil Omar and the comedian Ali Gul Pir with lyrics too rude to print in this newspaper. (So is a translation of the campaign’s name.) Ziad Zafar, the head of Pakistan for All, says the vigilante-style campaign has been successful on social media, and has struck a nerve in the government: A senior figure in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the party of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, complained to Ali Gul Pir about being “mocked” in the video.

Officials repeatedly assure the public that YouTube will be unblocked soon, even as the government tries to build a huge firewall modeled on the one in China. It’s a cat-and-mouse game that speaks volumes about the impossibility of damming up an ocean, but also about the amount of energy the government is willing to expend trying.

Technology-savvy Pakistanis are determined to thwart the government’s dreams of a toothless Internet, even though, as Mr. Ahmad says, “In Pakistan, there will always be a reason to block the Internet.” Needless to say, any videos that are part of the movement have to be posted on Vimeo, Dailymotion and other sites, because they still can’t legally be seen on YouTube.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 6, 2014 at 9:19am

Here's Wall Street Journal on Geo-Jang Group Media Mogul vs Military:

Media mogul Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman has played an outsized role in shaping Pakistan's politics in recent years. Now, his empire is struggling for survival after colliding with the country's most powerful institution: the military establishment.

The clash was sparked by the shooting last month of Hamid Mir, the star journalist of Mr. Rahman's Geo TV channel. Geo reporters alleged on broadcasts that the military's main spy agency was behind the attack. The military angrily denied the claim, and is now pushing to shut the network.

On Tuesday, Pakistan's media regulator will begin hearings on whether to close the channel.

The controversy is reversing fragile gains made by increasingly assertive Pakistani media over the past decade, analysts and media professionals say.

"Media has become a power center in Pakistan," said Absar Alam, an anchor at Aaj News, a competing news channel. "That has triggered alarm among traditional power players who think that they should have the exclusive right to shape opinion."

Central to the drama is Dubai-based Mr. Rahman, who owns Pakistan's biggest-selling newspaper, the Urdu-language Jang, in addition to Geo, the leading TV news channel.

According to employees, Mr. Rahman is intimately involved with editorial decisions at both outlets, which have pushed for the prosecution of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, campaigned for peace with archenemy India, and highlighted the abduction of suspected militants by security forces. Geo was also instrumental in bringing to an end Mr. Musharraf's regime in 2008 with heavy coverage of an opposition movement led by lawyers that made a hero out of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The political sway of his media empire has alarmed some Pakistanis, including rival media organizations, the military and some politicians.

"If one person has the power to set the political agenda, that is frightening," said Moeed Pirzada,an anchor at the competing Express News, which has echoed military criticism of Geo. "He is running a monopoly."

The boldness of Mr. Rahman's media group mirrors the larger struggle between civilian and military forces for power as a country ruled by the army for half its history tries to develop democratically. Mr. Rahman's publications were critical of the previous civilian government of Pakistan Peoples Party, which barred its members from appearing on Geo for more than a year in protest. They offered friendlier coverage of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, elected a year ago. Mr. Sharif, in turn, is widely seen as supporting Mr. Rahman in his confrontation with the military. Mr. Sharif visited Mr. Mir after the assassination attempt but denied he was taking sides. The government established a judicial commission to investigate the shooting and denied any conflict of interests.

"Geo was somewhat softer on this government," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a security analyst. "There is a feeling in military circles that after the shooting, Geo reacted this way because they had some kind of government support."
Some Pakistani media industry leaders say that Mr. Rahman may have miscalculated with his decision to run the accusations against the ISI in such a stark way. This overreach, they say, is allowing the military to respond by taming all coverage of its activities and to divide civilian forces.

"The space for the military establishment was shrinking," said an executive at another television channel. "He has given the game back to the military."

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 19, 2014 at 10:05pm

Washington: Television rules the media domain in Pakistan with more than three-fourths of adult population relying on it for news and information, according to a recent US survey.
"Television is by far the most important platform for news and information.
"We see that even when power is in short supply, people still find a way to watch," William Bell, director of audience insights at the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) said.

BBG released media research data found that 76.2 per cent of adult population watches TV while mobile phones were also becoming more common, signalling a possible shift in the way Pakistanis engage with media.
But there is a significant gap in information access between those with access to cable (45 per cent) and satellite (14 per cent), who have a much broader level of access, compared to those with only terrestrial (21 per cent) or no TV, Bell added.
The data found that Pakistani adults relied less on new media, and mobiles are not yet widely used for Internet access.
Although the majority of Pakistani adults (56 per cent) report having a mobile phone, the phones are commonly used primarily for sending messages or making calls, the report said.
"Mobile has a lot of room to grow, as 3G is just now taking off in Pakistan," said Bell.
Pakistani adults who did consume media on less popular platforms such as radio and Internet tended to do so on their mobile devices.
Mobile is the main medium of listening to the radio (62 per cent of radio listeners).

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 19, 2014 at 10:11pm

“Television is by far the most important platform for news and information. We see that even when power is in short supply, people still find a way to watch,” said William Bell, director of audience insights at the BBG. Bell added that there is a significant gap in information access between those with access to cable (45%) and satellite (14%), who have a much broader level of access, compared to those with only terrestrial (21%) or no TV.

The data found that Pakistani adults relied less on new media, and mobiles are not yet widely used for Internet access. Although the majority of Pakistani adults (56%%) report having a mobile phone, the phones are commonly used primarily for basic SMS or calling functions.

“Mobile has a lot of room to grow, as 3G is just now taking off in Pakistan,” said Bell. Pakistani adults who did consume media on less popular platforms such as radio and Internet tended to do so on their mobile devices. Mobile is the main means of going online in Pakistan (72% of Internet users) and the main method of listening to the radio (62% of radio listeners).

Both the media survey and the Gallup World Poll show strong regional differences in media consumption and attitudes.

Presenters discussing Pakistan media use. L-R: William Bell, Director of Audience Insights, International Broadcasting Bureau; Rajesh Srinivasan, Regional Research Director - Asia and Middle East, Gallup; Bruce Sherman, Director, Office of Strategy and Development, BBG; Chris Stewart, Partner, Gallup.
Presenters discussing Pakistan media use. L-R: William Bell, Director of Audience Insights, International Broadcasting Bureau; Rajesh Srinivasan, Regional Research Director – Asia and Middle East, Gallup; Bruce Sherman, Director, Office of Strategy and Development, BBG; Chris Stewart, Partner, Gallup.
“Increasing confidence in the national government is the single most striking observation since we started measuring this on the World Poll, and there are regional variations that might be due to exposure to state media,” said Rajesh Srinivasan, regional research director for Asia and Middle East at Gallup. “For example KPK has the lowest confidence in National government and they seem to rely more on State media for news and information.”

The BBG broadcasts to Pakistan with a blend of radio, television, and new media via Voice of America’s Urdu Service, VOA’s Radio Deewa, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Mashaal.

A research brief and presentation with further information about this data can be found here, and a video of the briefing will be added in the coming days. More information about the BBG’s media research series is available here.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 11, 2015 at 4:09pm

Radio World: #Pakistan Broadcasting Corp. Joins DRM Consortium. Plans to digitize radio broadcast infrastructure

Digital Radio Mondiale has announced that public broadcaster Pakistan Broadcasting Corp. is the latest member of the DRM Consortium.

PBC programs consist of music, features and plays meant to entertain listeners while also educating its overseas audiences about Pakistani culture, government and the world. The PBC broadcasts in 23-different state-recognized languages 24-hours a day.

“The Pakistan Broadcasting Corp. is interested in introducing the latest digital technologies for the benefit of the Pakistani listeners,” said Syed Imran, director general of PBC. “As such we are happy to join the DRM Consortium as we are embarking on the modernization and digitization of our infrastructures.”

DRM Chairman Ruxandra Obreja, welcomes PBC to the DRM Consortium and sees this “as a serious commitment of PBC to the latest radio technologies like the DRM standard and a chance for the DRM Consortium to strengthen its position in Asia and to learn more from an important market like Pakistan.”

- See more at:

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 29, 2015 at 4:14pm

Until 2002, Pakistan’s broadcast media was a narrow field; it had one radio station, Radio Pakistan, started in 1947 and one state-owned television channel, Pakistan Television, started in 1964; both were mouthpieces for officially slanted information, alongside privately held print media dominated by three major consortiums: the liberal Jang Group, owned by the media magnate Shakeel ur-Rahman (this group now owns the broadcast and web outlet GEO); the Nawai Waqt Group, which treads a right-wing line, and the English-language Dawn Group, the most moderate of the three (the newspaper Dawn was founded in 1941 in Delhi, India, by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of Pakistan’s independence movement, to promote the moderate ideals of his Muslim League).

Then, in 2002, Gen. Pervez Musharraf decided to open Pakistan to the global flow of information in order to reverse decades of isolation. He allowed private television channels and FM radio stations to obtain licenses, setting off a media boom. Their reporting during the conflicts that followed 9/11 and spilled over into Pakistan allowed these television channels to flourish, taking viewers away from state media in favor of more independent reporting.

Ironically, General Musharraf himself forced GEO off the air temporarily in 2007 when the channel criticized his suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. But today, out of office, the general once again flirts with the media as he tries to return to politics.

The media have grown to 40 news channels, 143 radio stations, and hundreds of national and regional newspapers. For that they are often called “vibrant.”

Another descriptor is “vulgar.” On prime-time television, news is sensationalized, with ratings the first consideration; alongside hysterical reporting are thrilling or tragic music and crude, insensitive graphics; virtually everything is “breaking news” in no hierarchy of importance. Meanwhile, large corporations like ARY and the Lakson Group have acquired media companies after discovering that controlling media can protect their corporate interests.

Advertisers get huge influence over what’s published or aired. Advertising breaks are frequent, and banners for commercial products run incessantly. Advertising also dominates front pages: one major newspaper group recently gave front-page ads prominence over headlines on all of its papers.

Meanwhile, the government still seeks to control the media; Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority wants an existing law amended to permit “de-linking” of television channels from their satellites if they broadcast “objectionable” or “unwanted” material.

While many in the media retain editorial integrity in the face of these pressures, Pakistani media houses have yet to come up with an industrywide code of conduct or self-regulatory body. Nor have they been able to stay unbiased. Often they blatantly take sides in political conflicts, even while describing themselves as protectors only of the public good.

So, what is the way forward? Ensuring the safety and security of Pakistani journalists is the best starting point; the industry’s foot soldiers need more training, as well as job tenure and pensions. Forming unions is another necessity, as well as creating a framework of regulation that offers protection against state and corporate pressure.

But what Pakistan’s media needs most is a unified sense of its own professional conscience, so that it can continue to thrive as it fulfills its ultimate duty to Pakistanis: to report the news free from bias and influence, while telling a good story that will catch citizens’ attention.

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 6, 2017 at 4:09pm

Meet the Martha Stewart of #Pakistan: Domestic Diva Zubaida Apa knows how to run a family household

Zubaida Tariq has been answering questions for over two decades. Watch her beloved cooking show and she’ll tell you how to cook everything from biryani to liver, or a summertime dessert of kulfi. Call in, and she’ll tell you how to strengthen your hair (vegetables in your diet), how to cure diaper rash (corn flour), how to spur a child’s growth (patience, though maybe he has worms), and how to fix Granddad’s broken leg (take him to a doctor).

Zubaida Aapa—the Urdu honorific for elder sister—is a homemaker, turned TV star, turned domestic goddess, and the closest thing Pakistan has to Martha Stewart, but with Stewart’s fame dialed up to 11. Since the ’90s, when she made her television debut on a cooking show called Dalda Ka Dastarkhwan, loosely translated as “Dalda’s spread,” named for its cooking oil company sponsor, Tariq has taught generations of homemakers how to raise their children, clean their homes, and make parathas. She has authored at least six cookbooks, doled out countless home remedies (totkas in Urdu) for kitchen, home, and child, and left satire in the wake of her outsize celebrity.

The first time I saw Tariq on TV was in the mid-’90s; the first time I saw her in person was in 2002, when she came to judge a cooking competition at my college; and the first time I met her was this summer, when she said I could come watch a taping of her show. So on a warm Monday evening in August, I came to the studios of Masala TV where Tariq was on set, preparing to film an episode of her current show, Handi, named after a cooking vessel common in northern South Asia.

Bowls of chopped coriander and turmeric powder were lined up on the counter. Tariq looked calm in a lilac sari and gold blouse and matching glass bangles, an encouraging contrast to the rush hour traffic choking the streets of Karachi outside. Her thin lips were painted in dark lipstick, her hair scraped back into a bun. She looked skinny, almost frail. At 72, Tariq could be a grandmother. She could be your grandmother.

Tariq never wears an apron over her impeccably ironed saris, and she doesn’t test her recipes anymore. When you’ve been cooking for the better part of your adult life, she says, “You have enough confidence that whatever you cook will turn out fine.”

It was almost 5 p.m.—prime time for the cooking channel, when home cooks start planning out their dinners—and Tariq was about to go live. She checked the burners. The studio went silent. Tariq’s co-host, Abeel Khan, greeted her and they started talking about the day’s recipes: badaami dahi baray—lentil fritters in yogurt, topped off with almonds—and Mangalorean chicken curry from India’s southwestern coast.

About 10 minutes into filming, she looked at the pan, where the fritters were separating and turning into behemoths. She realized that her cook at home—who preps her ingredients—had put baking soda in the batter. “This girl came to see me today and that’s the day I’ve had: a disaster,” she lamented genially to her audience and her co-host.

Later in the show, she answered a call about cleaning marble with good-natured exasperation. One viewer called to ask for tips on breast-feeding. Women in much of the world might save that particular topic for home, but Pakistani women can ask Zubaida Aapa anything. She knows things. She’s your 3 a.m. call.


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