Corruption charges hit Pakistani `Sesame Street’

by: CNN, Priyanka Boghani

(CNN) – No more “sunny days sweeping the clouds away” in Pakistan as its version of ‘”Sesame Street” gets its funding cut due to fraud charges, according to Reuters.

The United States has withdrawn funding for the Pakistani version of the American children’s television series known for its educational content and colorful puppets.  The U.S. Agency for International Aid received reports of corruption charges on the production company, Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, through an anti-fraud hotline, according to U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner. Exact details of the graft weren’t provided.

The show, which began airing six months ago, features Elmo with a cast of local characters. The funding cut comes just six weeks after the U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter visited the set of “Sim Sim Hamara,” the Pakistani name for the series, “to reaffirm the U.S. Government’s commitment to children’s education in Pakistan,” according to a USAID press release.

The U.S. had originally allocated $20 million to produce the show and $6.7 million of this has already been spent, according to press agency reports.

According to reports from Pakistan Today, the money was used to pay off Rafi Peer’s debts. The funding was also used to award lucrative salaries to family members, many of whom worked in the company.

However, the Lahore-based production company denies these claims. The chief operating officer of Rafi Peer and one of the family members running the organization, Faizaan Peerzada said the U.S. had already ended their participation after providing $10 million because of lack of additional available funds.

In a statement sent to the Associated Press, the group said, “Rafi Peer is proud of its association with the project and of the quality of children’s educational television programming created within Pakistan as a result.”

Rafi Peer plan to seek other sources of funding to continue producing the local version of “Sesame Street.”

The show kicked off last fall with the goals of promoting ethnic tolerance and gender equality. The production company made 26 episodes, just one third of the original order.

It’s the second time this year that the Muppets of the foreign version of “Sesame Street” have run into trouble. The U.S. Congress froze funding in October for the Palestinian version called “Sharaa Simsim” in Arabic, part of $200 million in cuts after the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations for statehood, which the U.S. opposed.

More recently, “Sesame Street” was also in the news when a documentary on Al-Jazeera claimed that a decade ago, U.S. forces used music from the children’s show to break in inmates at Guantanamo Bay.

Sesame Street shows and merchandise are part of a huge global brand. The show is broadcast in 145 countries, including Afghanistan, Chad and Sudan, according to the Sesame Street Workshop. An Abu Dhabi company last month announced plans to co-produce the show in Arabic there, according to Abu Dhabi’s the National newspaper.

Courtesy: CNN

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