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Beyond CAS: Govt to focus on clearing cable TV mess

08-January-2004
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Beyond CAS: Govt to focus on clearing cable TV mess

Ahead of Lok Sabha elections, the government is looking at a comprehensive solution to clear the cable TV industry mess. This is a priority area for the government, keeping in mind the controversy surrounding the conditional acce-ss system (CAS) in the capital.

The view in the top political circles is that piecemeal steps, such as denotification of a certain CAS-enabled area, (like south Delhi) are not sufficient, to put in place a consumer-friendly broadcasting sector, mainly in the realm of cable TV. A solution to the cable TV mess is expected to be evolved at the BJP conclave in Hyderabad early next week.

Although officials in the information and broadcasting ministry refused to spell out the planned course of action to bring a semblance of order to the broadcasting sector, an interim regulator appears to be the way forward. Among other issues, the regulator would focus on pricing of pay channels, cap on advertisements in various channels, content regulation, and transparency in the cable TV industry. Whether CAS is rolled back completely or it’s put on hold, work has already begun on getting a broadcasting regulator, sources said. One of the options is to entrust the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India with the job of regulating the broadcasting sector for an interim period.

Also, the government is considering recommendations of business chambers - Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and Confederation of Indian Industry (Cii) - for setting up an independent regulator for the broadcasting sector. While Ficci has submitted a report to the government on the ways and means of setting up a regulator, CII is learnt to have had several rounds of talks with officials in the I&B ministry recently on the issue.

According to the Ficci report, “majority of industry stakeholders are of the view that there is an urgent need to establish an exclusive interim broadcast regulator, which will, if considered desirable, later merge with the Convergence Commission.”

Citing examples of other countries, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, US, UK, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand, Malaysia, Papua, New Guinea and Philippines, which have regulators for the broadcasting sector, Ficci has recommended the same for India.

According to the report, I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad expressed concern that programmes and advertisements are being increasingly aired, violating the prescribed codes. Also, there was a consensus that “though the market should largely depend on self-regulation, it should be backed up by law to ensure proper enforcement.” Incorporating the minister’s views, the Ficci report adds: “The codes are a necessity to take into account the sensibilities of the vast sections of the population in the country.”

In the wake of protest from resident welfare associations and consumer groups against too may ads in pay TV channels, the regulator is expected to fix a programme-ad ratio. In that context, the report says that “the function of the broadcast regulator will be to ensure proper enforcement of programme, ad and industry codes.” Just like in Australia, the industry groups determine the code of practice applicable to their sector in consultation with the Australian Broadcasting Authority, the report advocates the same for India.

“In India, industry groups should determine the applicable codes of conduct in consultation with the broadcast regulator,” according to the Ficci report.

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