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Mega TV deal set to aid Malaysia’s English fluency

The Discovery Channel signed with Mega TV – Malaysia’s sole subscription TV service set to start broad-casting in three months – to provide a 24-hour channel in English that the country’s education minister hopes will help raise the standard and fluency of the language among Malaysians.

At the signing ceremony on June 22, Malaysia’s education minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak said, “The Discovery Channel’s type of programming will provide another dimension to the (currently weak) English language environment in Malaysia.”

The Malaysian government wants to push wider use of English in the country but has run into considerable resistance among Malay groups worried that such a move will lower the status of the national language, Malay.

Mega TV, operated by Cable-view Services, itself a consortium of five companies including the government and TV3, a private network, has also signed up CNN Intl. and ESPN. Other entertainment services also will be in English, making the service the only one in Malaysia not obliged to carry any Malay programming.

However, the chairman of Mega TV, Khalid Ahmad, said that there “might be Malay programming in a variety of shows. This would make Mega TV an important English-teaching tool in Malaysia via entertainment, unencumbered by political baggage.”

Mega TV will start its microwave transmissions in the Klang Valley, which is the most developed district in the country, adjacent to the federal capital of Kuala Lumpur. There are more than 80,000 homes in this area. This will be followed by urban centers Seremban, Malacca, Ipoh, Penang and Johor Bahru by the end of 1995.

Malaysia’s tough censorship of western films has resulted in Mega TV’s rather modest service of five channels for the foreseeable future. Sources say services like HBO are likely to agree to censorship of their product by local authorities after they have already agreed to package programs to suit conservative audiences, as HBO has done in Singapore.

In another development, Malaysia announced last week it will lift a ban on private satellite dishes by early next year ahead of the introduction of the country’s own satellite launch.

Malaysia is to launch its first satellite, MEASAT-1, by December. Information Minister Mohamed Rahmat said the satellite operator would begin transmission by April 1996 with 20 channels.

He told reporters a bill amending the country’s broad-casting laws would be introduced later this year to enable the use of private satellite dishes.

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