Yep. Islam. Where would we be without it? Â But the comments Â are rather, -shall we say: sceptical?- Â and show that the American public is slowly getting the message. Â However, the Buffalo News seems pleased that there is an Islamo-propaganda channel in the neighborhood Â that intends to “balance” the misunderstanding of Islam….
Bridges TV rebuilds from tragedy
By Jay Tokasz/Buffalo News
Instead, the Orchard Park-based television network struggled just to survive following the horrific killing last February of its cofounder, Aasiya Zubair Hassan.
A year after Zubair Hassan’s death and the subsequent jailing of her husband, Bridges TV Chief Executive Officer Muzzammil S. Hassan, on a murder charge, the digital cable and satellite network is still on the air.
Its current operators say they want to honor Zubair Hassan’s memory by improving programming, building viewership and becoming a go-to channel for Muslims and others.
But viewers are uncertain whether Bridges TV can recapture the promise that came with its launching in 2004, when Muslims across the country rallied around the network.
“This was projected to be a big year,” said Faizan Haq, a local Muslim who was involved in helping get the network off the ground. “All hopes were dashed.”
Dr. Anwar Suad, a former member of the Bridges board of directors and one of hundreds of investors in the network, said he was “heartbroken about the whole situation.”
The network had the capacity to fill a major void in the way Muslims are portrayed in the United Statesâ€”and vice versa, he said.
But Suad said he wasn’t confident Bridges TV could pull it off.
“Unfortunately, the [murder] overshadows some positive [things] they may be trying to do,” he said.
“There needs to be a voice out there” to counter the “half-news” that emanates from other media, said Suad, who has a medical practice in Connecticut. “There is a need to build some understandings . . . That vacuum remains . . . I hope Bridges can do it, and if Bridges can’t do it, I hope some other network can do it.”
Bridges has undergone a host of changes since the driving forces behind its existence suddenly vanished last February 12.
The body of Zubair Hassan, who originally envisioned the idea of a new television network as a way to dispel negative stereotypes of Muslims and encouraged her husband to develop a business plan, was found decapitated in a hallway of the Bridges TV offices on Thorn Avenue.HassanÂ was charged with second-degree murder andÂ is being held in jail as he awaits trial.
The network shut down its daily news operation for three months following the homicide, although it continued to run other programming.
“I don’t think we were ready to put the news out there,” said Hunaid Baliwala, who took over as general manager of the network. “We felt we had hit rock bottom in a sense. All of a sudden, all eyes were on us.”
The newscast, a main draw of the network, initially was restored on a weekly basis. A daily show returned in May, with two new co-anchors, David Prinzbach and Tooba Khilji.
“We all sat down and said, ‘We can walk away and say we can’t do this, or we can work together,’ ” said Baliwala, an employee of Bridges since 2005 who also is pursuing an MBA at the University of Rochester.
Bridges TV continues to employ a staff of 10 people, down from about 25 at the network’s peak, who work inside a no-frills facility.
Revenues to fund operations and pay for programming come primarily through license fees paid by cable and satellite companies, as well as advertising, said Baliwala, who declined to provide specifics.
Some former Bridges employees contacted for this story suggested that the network was struggling to connect with viewers even prior to Zubair Hassan’s death, largely because of poor management and inadequate resources.
“You need a lot of money to run a successful television network, and you need a hit show,” said Asad Mahmood Butt, a former anchor and news director. “I felt that the people in charge, they were business people, as opposed to television business people. They were concerned about saving money as opposed to spending money to make money.”
The network currently can be viewed in 21 markets and about 3.7 million households, and Baliwala said that number is growing by about 50,000 households per month. Contracts with Verizon FIOS account for 16 of the 21 markets. Further, Bridges has carriage contracts with Selco, Comcast, Time Warner, Buckeye and Cox, and is also available through direct online subscriptions as well.
It is available to Time Warner customers in Erie and Niagara counties as part of the company’s digital cable packages.
The network was seeking additional carriage agreements with companies such as AT&T and Cablevision, said Baliwala.
Bridges once relied on up to a dozen freelance field reporters to file reports from various cities across the U. S. and world for its newscasts. Now, it has none.
While Baliwala admitted that the network did not have huge resources to spend on programming, he said repetition of shows has been eliminated. And most Bridges offerings can’t be found anywhere else, he added, pointing to the recent airing of an exclusive and extended interview with Robert Lacey, British author of “Inside the Kingdom,” a behind-the-scenes look at Saudi Arabia.
The network will also air a similar extended interview with Yvonne Ridley, a journalist captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and released on the condition she read the entire Quran.
On Friday, the anniversary of Zubair Hassan’s death, the network launched an improved Web site. And staff continue to search for new shows to attract more viewers and advertisers.
While it has yet to fulfill its potential, the network “still has a unique role it’s playing,” said Haq. “The miracle is it has survived what it has survived.”
Bridges TV, added Haq, has been able to distance itself from Hassan and Zubair Hassan and start anew, but it now needs to become much bolder and expand its programming.
“The American stage is waiting to see what they can do,” said Haq. “There’s more need for an alternative, credible voice than ever before.”