Pakistan’s Opinionated Media Landscape

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by ajtr, May 27, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Pakistan’s Opinionated Media Landscape


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    A cartoon depicting Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American accused of attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square

    Pakistanis have a seemingly insatiable appetite for political news. Since the news media was liberalized under former President Pervez Musharraf, that hunger is being fed like never before.

    Eight years ago Pakistan had one television news channel. Now there are 26 news channels, half of which broadcast 24 hours a day. But most of what is on offer hardly qualifies as rigorous, fact-based news. Rather, shows follow a familiar formula of a roundtable discussion by middle-aged men hashing out political conspiracies.

    If that problem sounds familiar to an American audience, consider that in Pakistan it has taken on daunting proportions. That media phenomenon is what today’s video report, “Losing the Media War in Pakistan,” attempts to capture.

    Media critics here say the problem lies with a lack of experienced reporters, and a lack of investment in investigative journalism, which has created a troubling tilt toward right-wing, highly opinionated talk shows. After all, talk shows are cheaper to produce, and easier to make. Granted, hard-hitting journalism in this country can often be dangerous, but another problem is sourcing. The same relative handful of personalities make rounds on the talk show circuit. Same people. Different day. Different channel. Most are more opinionated than informed, and as a result, talk shows are giving prominence to incredible sources.

    For example, one of the more hard-hitting hosts is questioning a politician from an Islamic party who is convinced that the United States staged the Times Square bombing. His political résumé centers on education and religious affairs, not security, international affairs or terrorism. At one point, he even forgets the name of the bomber. The host does not press him to back up his claims.

    Why is a national television program asking a politician without credentials in international security about a closed investigation taking part in another country? In some respects, the blame can be shared among conspiratorial guests, the ratings-obsessed producers who book them, and pandering hosts who play to their audience’s worst instincts.
     
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  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    U.S. Is a Top Villain in Pakistan’s Conspiracy Talk

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    Until recently, Zaid Hamid was an outspoken commentator on Pakistani television.

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    Supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami at a rally in Karachi, Pakistan, in February. Pakistani suspicion of the United States is fueled by political parties and media pundits.

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Americans may think that the failed Times Square bomb was planted by a man named Faisal Shahzad. But the view in the Supreme Court Bar Association here in Pakistan’s capital is that the culprit was an American “think tank.” No one seems to know its name, but everyone has an opinion about it. It is powerful and shadowy, and seems to control just about everything in the American government, including President Obama.

    “They have planted this character Faisal Shahzad to implement their script,” said Hashmat Ali Habib, a lawyer and a member of the bar association.

    Who are they?

    “You must know, you are from America,” he said smiling. “My advice for the American nation is, get free of these think tanks.”

    Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players — the United States, India and Israel — change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history. Since 2001, the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan’s collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here.

    “When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Lahore.

    The problem is more than a peculiar domestic phenomenon for Pakistan. It has grown into a narrative of national victimhood that is a nearly impenetrable barrier to any candid discussion of the problems here. In turn, it is one of the principal obstacles for the United States in its effort to build a stronger alliance with a country to which it gives more than a billion dollars a year in aid.

    It does not help that no part of the Pakistani state — either the weak civilian government or the powerful military — is willing to risk publicly owning that relationship.

    One result is that nearly all of American policy toward Pakistan is conducted in secret, a fact that serves only to further feed conspiracies. American military leaders slip quietly in and out of the capital; the Pentagon uses networks of private spies; and the main tool of American policy here, the drone program, is not even publicly acknowledged to exist.

    “The linchpin of U.S. relations is security, and it’s not talked about in public,” said Adnan Rehmat, a media analyst in Islamabad.

    The empty public space fills instead with hard-line pundits and loud Islamic political parties, all projected into Pakistani living rooms by the rambunctious new electronic media, dozens of satellite television networks that weave a black-and-white, prime-time narrative in which the United States is the central villain.

    “People want simple explanations, like evil America, Zionist-Hindu alliance,” said a Pakistani diplomat, who asked not to be named because of the delicate nature of the topic. “It’s gone really deep into the national psyche now.”

    One of those pundits is Zaid Hamid, a fast-talking, right-wing television personality who rose to fame on one of Pakistan’s 90 new private television channels.

    He uses Google searches to support his theory that India, Israel and the United States — through their intelligence agencies and the company formerly known as Blackwater — are conspiring to destroy Pakistan.

    For Mr. Hamid, the case of Mr. Shahzad is one piece of a larger puzzle being assembled to pressure Pakistan. Why, otherwise, the strange inconsistencies, like the bomb’s not exploding? “If you connect the dots, you have a pretty exciting story,” he said.

    But the media are only part of the problem. Only a third of Pakistan’s population has access to satellite channels, Mr. Rehmat said, and equally powerful are Islamic groups active at the grass roots of Pakistani society.

    Though Pakistan was created as a haven for Muslims, it was secular at first, and did not harden into an Islamic state on paper until 1949. Intellectuals point to the moment as a kind of original sin, when Islam became embedded in the country’s democratic blueprint, handing immense power to Islamic hard-liners, who could claim — despite their small numbers — to be the true guardians of the state.

    Together with military and political leaders, these groups wield Islamic slogans for personal gain, further shutting down discussion. “We’re in this mess because political forces evoke Islam to further their own interests,” said Aasim Sajjad, an assistant professor of political economy at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. Lawyers in Pakistan have a strong streak of political Islam. Mr. Habib, who has had militants as clients, argues that Al Qaeda is an American invention. Their pronouncements are infused with anti-Semitism, standard for Islamic groups in the region.

    “The lobbies are the Jews, maybe some Indians, working in the inner core of the American administration,” said Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, vice president of the bar association. Liberals on Pakistan’s beleaguered left see the xenophobic patriotism and conspiracy theories as a defense mechanism that deflects all responsibility for society’s problems and protects against a reality that is too painful to face.

    “It’s deny, deny, deny,” said Nadeem F. Paracha, a columnist for Dawn, an English-language daily. “It’s become second nature, like an instinct.”

    Mr. Paracha argues that the denial is dangerous because it hobbles any form of public conversation — for example, about Mr. Shahzad’s upper-class background — leaving society unequipped to find remedies for its problems. “We’ve started to believe our own lies,” he said.

    For those on the left, that view obscures an increasingly disappointing history. For 62 years, Pakistan has lurched from one self-serving government to the next, with little thought given to education or the economy, said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor at Quaid-i-Azam University. Now Pakistan is dependent on the West to pay its bills, a vulnerable position that breeds resentment.

    “We acknowledge to ourselves privately that Pakistan is a client state of the U.S.,” Mr. Hoodbhoy said. “But on the other hand, the U.S. is acting against Muslim interests globally. A sort of self-loathing came about.”

    There are very real reasons for Pakistanis to be skeptical of the United States. It encouraged — and financed — jihadis waging a religious war against the Soviets in the 1980s, while supporting the military autocrat Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who seeded Pakistan’s education system with Islamists.

    But Mr. Hamid is more interested in the larger plot, like the secret ownership of the Federal Reserve, which he found on the Internet. After three years of fame, his star seems to be falling. This month his show was canceled, and he has had to rely on Facebook and audio CDs to make his points. But it is not the end of the conspiracy.

    “Someone else will be front row very soon,” said Manan Ahmed, a professor of Pakistani history. “It is the mood of the country at the moment.”
     
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  4. tarunraju

    tarunraju Moderator Moderator

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    Yes they are opinionated to ridiculous proportions, but they're very good with socially-relevant investigative journalism. In one of the blogs of Rajdeep Sardesai, he highlighted just this, and that when it comes to neutrality with investigative journalism, they're better than us.

    For example, the exposé nailing Pakistan's denial on Kasab's nationality (reports from his village), and the report from Pakistan's irrigation departments which nailed the state's rhetoric about India stealing their water (in which irrigation officers managing dams and rivers disagreed with the Pakistani state).
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2010
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  5. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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  6. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    A Grand Conspiracy Theory From Pakistan

    By ROBERT MACKEY
    The Web site Pakistan Daily is an Islamabad-based hub for Pakistani citizen journalism, promising Pakistani readers: “Your News. Powered by You.” It is also an excellent place to turn if you want to read in on the latest conspiracy theories making the rounds in that country. Or just get very scared.

    Somewhat disturbingly, the source for the “top story” on Pakistan Daily today is Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari. As an anonymous article on the site reports accurately, in an interview with NBC News which aired on Sunday, Mr. Zardari claimed that he “knew” that Osama bin Laden was an American “operator” during the 1980s.

    Mr. Zardari told David Gregory, in the part of the interview embedded below, that this knowledge dates from 1989, when, he said, his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was then Pakistan’s prime minister, had called the first President Bush to complain about Mr. bin Laden’s efforts to destabilize Pakistan, presumably on behalf of the government of the United States. Since Mr. Gregory made no effort to follow up on this statement by Mr. Zardari, we have no idea what information his belief about Mr. bin Laden is based on, but his statement does closely echo one he made in an interview with Fox News last September. In that earlier interview, Mr. Zardari displayed a shaky grasp of where exactly the line between fact and fiction lies, since he also recounted a story about Oliver North having supposedly warned Congress about the dangers posed by Mr. bin Laden in 1987 — a story that, as my colleague Brian Stelter pointed out, is based on a hoax e-mail message that circulated widely after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    While most of the conspiracy theories posted on Pakistan Daily seem easy to debunk — like allegations that “Osama bin Laden may be Jewish” or that Islamist militants in Pakistan’s Swat Valley are Indian intelligence agents — it is not hard to understand why some Pakistanis are so willing to believe that unseen forces are behind their current troubles. After all, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the United States did in fact work closely, and secretly, with Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, to destabilize that country’s government by supporting Islamic extremists like Mr. bin Laden.

    Elements of Pakistan’s government have also obviously played on the fears of the population to win their cooperation at certain times. In fact, they have done it as recently as last week. As my colleague Dexter Filkins pointed out, the prominent Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported last Friday reported that Pakistani soldiers were using the threat of shadowy foreign forces to encourage citizens to support their current battle with the Taliban. According to Dawn:

    The security forces also distributed pamphlets in various areas accusing the Taliban of playing in the hands of anti-Pakistan elements. ‘They are the same as Jewish forces who are against the existence and security of the country and wanted to create disturbance in the region,’ read a leaflet.
    But one of the most interesting conspiracy theories posted recently on Pakistan Daily is the grand, unified theory in a signed essay by a Pakistani blogger and journalist named Ahmed Quraishi, headlined “Barack Obama Is Lying About Pakistan.” In his essay Mr. Quraishi, who has worked as a television journalist for PTV, Pakistan’s state broadcaster, outlines a supposed plot against Pakistan by the American government and media.

    According to Mr. Quraishi, the entire battle against militants in Pakistan is nothing less than a huge “American psy-ops” campaign to distract from the failures of the United States in Afghanistan. Mr. Quraishi writes:

    In less than two years, the United States has successfully managed to drop from news headlines its failure to pacify Afghanistan. The focus of the Anglo-American media – American and British – has been locked on Pakistan. In order to justify this shift, multiple insurgencies and endless supply of money and weapons has trickled from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan into Pakistan to sustain a number of warlords inside Pakistan whom the American media calls ‘Taliban’ but they are actually nothing but hired mercenaries with sophisticated weapons who mostly did not even exist as recently as the year 2005.
    Mr. Quraishi’s reading of events hinges on the idea that a statement by President Obama, during the news conference on his 100th day in office, that he was concerned that Pakistan’s “civilian government right now is very fragile,” was a veiled call for a military coup and “essentially amounts to a declaration of war against another country.” Mr. Quraishi also claims that “academic programs are being launched in the U.S. that advocate the breakup of Pakistan and the creation of smaller entities.”

    How you might ask, has Mr. Obama been able to get away with this huge psy-ops campaign against Pakistan? That’s where we come in. In Mr. Quraishi’s view, alarming reports on the progress of Taliban militants in Pakistan are all part of the plot, in which, he says, “the U.S. media and officials are single-handedly tarnishing Pakistan’s image worldwide to justify a military intervention.” According to Mr. Quraishi:

    The most spectacular, anti-Pakistan media campaign ever against our country has been launched by the U.S. media and continues unabated, with the purpose of softening the international opinion for a possible military action against Pakistan. And there is no question that this campaign has some backing from official U.S. quarters as was the case in the propaganda that preceded the invasion of Iraq.
    Your Lede blogger can only say that if there is a plot like this someone forgot to send us the memo. That said, we have seen signs that some readers of this blog seem to agree with Mr. Quraishi that the fix is in. Here, for instance, is a recent comment from a reader named Chithra KarunaKaran, explaining the purpose of my work, and that of my colleagues Dexter Filkins and Alan Cowell:

    It is disturbing but predictable that Mackey, Filkins and Cowell would file articles and blog posts that hide the US hand in the vast internal displacement of Pakistanis within their own homeland. Despite their claims of objectivity, their job is in accordance with the diktat of the Obama administration and Congress.
    Clear evidence that the Pakistani public is not buying the Western media’s explanation of recent events is also offered by the results of a recent poll conducted in Pakistan of 3,500 adult men and women by the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit group based in Washington that is affiliated with the Republican Party and promotes democracy abroad. Despite strong indications that the attacks in Mumbai last November were the work of a militant group based in Pakistan, Pakistanis surveyed overwhelmingly said that they did not believe the media reports:

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    Results from a survey of Pakistan public opinion conducted in March, 2009.

    Asked, by the same pollsters, to say who they believed was behind the attacks in Mumbai, the largest number of Pakistanis pointed the finger at the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s intelligence service. Just one per cent of the sample said that terrorists were responsible, while 20 times that many Pakistanis blamed America:

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    Results from a survey of Pakistan public opinion conducted in March, 2009.

    Update: A reader notes that Mr. Quraishi’s biography on his Web site says that since 2003 he has worked for FurmaanRealpolitik, Inc., which is a political consulting firm that designs media campaigns. Mr. Quraishi says on his site that he “tailored and executed government-assigned public outreach projects,” for that firm. The firm’s Web site brags of “practical experience of using the internet as a campaign-management and issue-advocacy tool.”

    In 2007 the blog MicroPakistan cast some doubt on another elaborate theory of Mr. Quraishi’s. Reader comments on that blog post echoed some posted here by readers who suggest that there may be some connection between Mr. Quraishi’s “government-assigned public outreach projects” and his writing online.
     
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  7. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    On transitions and conspiracies




    Reality check

    Friday, May 28, 2010
    Shafqat Mahmood

    There is a theory that transition to democracy after a long period of military rule is very difficult. It presupposes that the military as a dominant institution keeps the civilians under pressure. This does not allow the government and even the system to settle down.

    This theory has been tested and found valid in a number of countries, particularly in South America. Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Chile went through many hiccups before their democracy stabilised. Something similar happened in South Korea and is now the case in Thailand.

    It has also been true of Pakistan, especially in the post-Zia period. As a witness to this particular transition, I have little doubt that Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and his intelligence people actively destabilised the PPP government. This continued after Nawaz Sharif took power in 1990, though the chiefs changed.

    The two army commanders who did not have any political ambition were Generals Waheed Kakar and Jehangir Karamat. It is not that they did not have opportunities. They did, but decided not to intervene. The track record of their successor, Gen Musharraf, is a part of our history.

    What is the reality of our current transition? A study of this would have to begin with the 2008 election. There is little doubt that Musharraf had every intention to rig it, but two things came in his way. The assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and the approach of the new army chief, Gen Kayani.

    Mohtarma's assassination was a terribly traumatic event. It galvanised the PPP support base and raised political temperatures to an extent that outright rigging would have led to a very difficult situation. This was a serious deterrence to any result fixing plan.

    In passing, it would not be out of place to mention that the 2002 election under Musharraf was thoroughly rigged. Results were blatantly changed even after the candidates themselves had conceded defeat. A particularly egregious example of this was in Lahore, where the winner went on to become a pillar of the Musharraf regime.

    The other reason why rigging in 2008 became difficult was the attitude of Gen Kayani. In a series of directives, he warned his rank and file against any political contact. This ensured that any officer, including any in the intelligence services, doing anything on behest of Musharraf would face the sack.

    Second, he strictly kept the troops away from polling stations and only assigned them law-and-order duties. This may not seem significant, but compared to the past when the army virtually ran the elections, it was an important change. It obviated the possibility of any direct interference by troops assigned polling duties.

    After the elections, the military had no role in formation of the government. It was also not drawn into political battles that inevitably followed. It could have taken a position when Musharraf looked like being ousted from the Presidency, but it did not. It only ensured a decent departure for him.

    The one event where an ambitious general could have engineered circumstances for his takeover was the judicial crisis in March 2009. With the multitudes moving towards Islamabad, Gen Kayani only had to let the situation deteriorate to assume power.

    Instead, he actively defused it by advising the president to give in. He also requested the leaders of the lawyers' movement and Mr Nawaz Sharif to call off the march. This ensured a peaceful ending to a potentially destabilising crisis. Hardly the handiwork of an ambitious general!

    Since then, the military has been quite with regard to the political give and take, but not entirely on the sidelines. It has taken an active position on many security-related issues, including dealings with India and the United States. The public stand taken by it on the Kerry-Lugar Bill caused deep concern in government and parts of the media, but it was specific to a particular issue and has been resolved.

    The active role taken by Gen Kayani to coordinate and participate in the strategic dialogue with the US has also elicited comment. Given capacity issues in the government, I, for one, am glad that he was a key player. The nation's future cannot be trifled away to preserve form.

    This brings me to the current tussle between President Zardari and the Supreme Court and any potential role of the army in it. The media has occasionally hinted at it and it is often discussed in private conversations. This is not a surprise, given our history of conspiracy theories that have in time come out right.

    President Zardari has himself given fuel to these rumours by openly saying that he will fight conspiracies of the pen and the bayonet. Did he have any evidence to say this? He did not reveal any and none is obvious in the public domain, other than our penchant for assuming that nothing serious or sinister can happen without the army being involved.

    The problem with this proclivity of ours is that there is no hard evidence to support it. In fact, if anything, there are reasons to discount it. First is the personality of the chief justice. This man who stood up to Musharraf and perhaps believes in his heart that he has been chosen by God and the people to do good in this land, will he take dictation from the military?

    Unlikely, very unlikely. Second is the personality of Gen Kayani himself. This man is no Musharraf. He is more likely to stay in the background than thrust himself forward. He obviously has views on what is happening in the country, as head of a major national institution, and must be worried on many scores. But is he the sort who would like to take over, and that too through judicial interventions?

    Again, there is no evidence to support it. Had the military and the judiciary colluded, Mr Zardari would now be resting in a pleasure boat in Cannes than in the house on the hill. The NRO judgment in December would have been a very convenient handle to get rid of him.

    Much to the chagrin of those who want Zardari out, we are at the end of May and after Babar Awan's "brilliant" performance, the next date of a hearing on the implementation of the NRO decision is June 10. Does this show any kind of urgency, or indeed collusion, on the part of the army and judiciary to get rid of the president?

    If I were of a kind who believed this, I would be severely disappointed by now in Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Gen Kayani. They have shown themselves to be very incompetent conspirators. Or, I would recognise the reality that they are not implementing some grand plan to get rid of Zardari, Gilani or this virtual mela that our democracy is.

    What is happening, though, is that people are getting fed up with the results after two years of democratic rule. Poor governance, corruption, and just a sheer lack of ability in the leadership are bothering the people. This is what Zardari and Co should worry about. Not some imaginary conspiracy being hatched against them.
     
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  8. hit&run

    hit&run Elite Member Elite Member

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    Conspiracy Culture and reaction to the attacks on Ahmedi Mosques: Why our news outlets spread hatred?
    May 30, 2010 by sparklingway

    Recently, NYT in a column expressed reservations over the conspiracy culture in Pakistan. The column pointed out the massive fan following of super-conspiracy theorists and the wide acceptance of these mega theories as legitimate. Any sane Pakistani who has studied history beyond what he was taught through the doctored textbooks or what he was indoctrinated with at home and by society in general can attest to the reality of our national delusion. Not only have we created a mythical history of our past and conjured a national ideology out of thin air, we have crafted a xenophobic attitude nationally. The lack of trust between the people of Pakistan and the US Government has valid reasons as well. They left us dry whenever they had achieved the smallest bit of their strategic objectives but our culture of denial and delusion goes beyond the US.

    It is not the first time that any foreign media outlet or any Pakistani has tried to point out the delusion that has gripped our public almost entirely. Any writer that tries to point it out, tries to point out the errors in the fictional textbook history, spreads a message of tolerance and rationality is more than often labeled a “traitor” or an “agent” or both. Attached to these badges are the obvious associations and payrolls of RAW or CIA or MOSSAD or any combination of these three. In the wider context it has become tantamount to treason and heresy to question our grand narrative or our public perception of global politics. I will not reduce my argument to pointing out news outlets or places on the blogsophere that have accused intellectuals of treason and instigated hatred against them for they are not worthy of mentioning.

    People across the academia and the blogosphere complained about the NYT column and suggested that NYT being an esteemed paper should have at least referenced the efforts of honest intellectuals who are trying to hold the bastion of rationality and tolerance. While NYT missed this point, yesterday’s newspapers proved the word of NYT true. Prof C M Naim has gladly contributed his thoughts based on yesterday’s reporting across major Urdu newspapers. The reporting is downright shameless and a portrayal of our public opinion which is mostly denial and blame on foreign powers. Of course the “foreign hand” is blamed, the editor chooses his choice of intelligence agency from RAW, CIA and MOSSAD and the newspapers forget that it was necessary to comment on the relationship between the historical persecution of Ahmedis, prosecution at the hands of the state and the constant fear that they have lived in.

    Prof C M Naim commenting the controversy over this article and responses from our side today wrote the following:-

    “Here are the front-page “explanations” in Pakistan’s two foremost Urdu newspapers: Nawa-i-Waqt and Jang. Both are published in several cities, and also have web editions.

     
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