Investors seeking to start television network for U.S. Muslims

Monday, May 5, 2003

NEW YORK -- A group of investors said Friday they want to start a television network aimed at the interests of an estimated eight million Muslims living in the United States.

The network, to be called Bridges TV, would begin in summer 2004.

Omar Amanat, founder of the Internet brokerage firm Tradescape Corp., leads the group. Bridges TV says it has $1 million and is seeking 10,000 Muslim-Americans to pledge $10 a month for the service to convince cable and satellite operators of a demand.

Many Muslims now use satellites to retrieve Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-American news station, or other Arabic networks that originate from overseas. But there are no English-language alternatives that focus specifically on Muslims who live in the United States, Hassan said.

The network is being named Bridges TV because it hopes to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and other Americans, said Muzzammil Hassan, one of the investors.

"Bridges TV is not going to be an Al-Jazeera," Hassan said. "It's going to be a very patriotic channel."

Bridges TV envisions broadcasting four to six hours per day at the start, offering a mix of news, talk shows, sitcoms, children's programming and movies. The hope is to eventually become a full-time network like BET or Telemundo, the investors said.

"There absolutely is a need -- not just to inform the Muslim-American community, but more importantly to represent the unique experience of Muslims" to others, said Kareem Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

A number of Muslim-Americans have been seeking to start radio or television outlets on a regional basis, but Bridges TV is the first with national ambitions, Irfan said.

Persuading cable and satellite companies to provide space is generally an uphill battle for new networks. That's why Bridges TV wants to build a base of pledged subscribers to demonstrate there is a market, Hassan said.

The need is even greater because of misconceptions and strained relations in the wake of Sept. 11, he said.

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