The delay in obtaining government approval has set back several television industry projects worth nearly Rs 1,700 crore.
Pegged at Rs 1,600 crore, the biggest of the lot is Star’s direct-to-home (DTH) joint venture with the Tata group.
The others include Hindi newspaper group Dainik Jagran’s proposed news channel, Zee TV’s existing news channel as well as its proposed business news channel, and a Telugu channel from the Chennai-based Raj TV.
The application for the Star-Tata DTH project, where Star holds 20 per cent equity and the Tatas the remaining 80 per cent, was filed with the ministry in February 2004. Government sources said the project had been cleared by the department of space as well as the home ministry.
However, the information and broadcasting ministry is yet to approve the proposal and issue a letter of intent. Sources in Star India said the delay might cost the company dear as Zee’s DTH project, Dish TV, was off the ground and might get an unfair first-mover advantage.
Speaking to Business Standard, sources close to Raj TV in Chennai said the broadcaster was also waiting for the government’s nod for its new Telugu channel. Government sources, however, claimed the company had started airing the channel without the necessary approvals.
“All we have done is sent them a notice to stop broadcasting the channel,” said a government source. Significantly, Raj TV is a direct competitor to Telecommunications Minister Dayanaidhi Maran’s family concern, Sun TV in Chennai.
In the case of Zee News, the company was supposed to restructure itself in accordance with the government guidelines on news channels, which allow only 26 per cent foreign direct investment and bar foreign institutional investment and investment by overseas corporate bodies in the sector.
Zee group executives claimed the revised application, conforming to the norms, was filed with the ministry four months ago by a new company, Zee Sports. The proposal also included an application for a business news channel.
Government sources, however, said: “Zee News does not conform to the media guidelines. Under the current structure it cannot get an approval. Besides, the company never applied for a business news channel though it started airing its promos,” said a source.
According to government sources, Zee cannot launch a business news channel, even on the KU band (used for DTH), without government approval. However, Zee News, along with a handful of other channels, has till October 31 to conform to government’s media policy.
The application for a news channel from the Hindi newspaper group, Dainik Jagran, has also been sent back to the company for clarifications as the details of the project report were not attached with the application.
Dainik Jagran’s promoter Sanjay Gupta said there had been a project delay. “The delay is not at the government end but at our end,” he clarified.