With the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) committing unanimous support to the governments move to introduce Conditional Access System (CAS), the decks are cleared for the controversial Cable TV Amendment Bill that has been hanging fire since May this year. The other two main stakeholders in CAS, Cable TV Operators and MSO’s had already given their support to the Bill.
The Bill, which was cleared by the Lok Sabha was however stalled in the Rajya Sabha amidst opposition from a section of Broadcasters and Parliamentarian. Infact these Broadcasters had successfully lobbied with the Congress and the Left for scuttling the Bill and ultimately the Government had to withdraw it.
In May, IBF members after their meeting had taken a stand against the manner in which CAS was sought to be implemented. They called for a planned and phased transaction to CAS as many issues concerning technology, funding, availability, Set Top Boxes, regulations etc needed to be studied in detail. The IBF members went to the extend of saying that CAS Bill was unlikely to be resolved the fundamental issues faced by the Industry. They maintained that in the absence of a correct CAS model, the customers would get exploited.
IBF had even suggested that the Bill be referred to the Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Somnath Chatterjee, which was already looking into the convergence bill. This suggestion from the IBF was voiced in the form of a demand by the Congress and Left in the Rajya Sabha.
And now over six months later IBF has taken a U turn. In a media release issued on December 5, IBF says that its Board of directors in their meeting held of November 29 committed their unanimous support to CAS. It further says that Indian legislators should be apprised of the ground realities of the cable industry and motivated to introduce changes in the two areas of concern in the Cable Industry – transperancy in subscribers numbers and existing monopoly of Cable Operators.
The most interesting part of the IBF media release is its denial of a December 4 news report on CAS that appeared in a leading financial daily. This report had alleged that major TV channels were doing hectic lobbying to stall the CAS Bill from been passed in the Rajya Sabha in the current session of the Parliament. The news story had pointed out that barring Zee and Star TV, the representative of all other major TV channels would meet MPs under the charge of IBF President K S Sarma to lobby against the CAS Bill.
The timing of the IBF press release is quite intriguing. The mood question is why did IBF wait for full five days after the meeting of its Board of Directors on November 29 to issue the press release supporting the CAS Bill? Enquiries made by exchange4media from the I&B Ministry and from other independent sources point to a high drama that let IBF to fall in line. It is learnt that after the publication of the controversial news report on December 4, the furious I&B Ministry bosses called an emergency meeting of the representatives of various TV channels including the IBF President to express their severe displeasure. It is further learnt that during the meeting called by Additional Secretary I&B, Anil Baijal, the channels honchos were ticked off and told in no uncertain terms to fall in line. The IBF was asked to issue a press release supporting CAS Bill.
The I&B mandarins believe that in view of the latest stand of the IBF, the opposition will not stall the bill when it comes up in the Rajya Sabha.