The Standing Committee on Information Technology has asked the government to enact a relevant law to regulate the entry and growth of direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting services. DTH in India is regulated by guidelines, and not by a comprehensive law.
Responding to the action taken report of the government on DTH, the Standing Committee has said that “guidelines cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive legal framework”.
In its action taken report, the information and broadcasting ministry had said: “The matter was discussed by the group of ministers (GoM) in March 2000 when it was observed that with changes in information technology and in the broadcasting and communication scenario, the reasons for which DTH had not been allowed in 1997, were no longer relevant.”
To that, the Standing Committee has said: “The committee fails to understand how in the year 2000, the social impact of foreign TV programmes on Indian citizens was no longer relevant and the GoM decided in favour of superior technology.” It has asked the government why the GoM allowed sensitive issues pertaining to morality, security and monopoly to be regulated through guidelines rather than a comprehensive legislation.
“While acknowledging the need to take advantage of changes in the information technology and communication scenario, the Committee strongly feels that the social cause of the effect of foreign TV channels on the Indian citizen is of paramount importance and cannot be sacrificed,” the panel chaired by M M Pallam Raju has stated.
The committee has urged the government to enact a law without further delay, keeping in mind all aspects related to DTH. “The committee would like to point out that Parliament was in session during February-May 2000, July-August 2000, November-December 2000, and February-April 2001. There could have been no reason before the I&B ministry not to bring the vital issue before Parliament or before the Committee.”
It has also pointed out that, “The ministry has not only failed to appreciate the thrust of this recommendation but has also not taken its recommendation seriously”.
The committee “deplores the inexplicable haste shown by the government in introducing DTH services without a comprehensive law and also the manner in which the DTH services are sought to be regulated through administrative orders rather than through an effective legislation.” The committee sums up that Parliament should be taken into confidence and a law on DTH must be enacted “to allay the apprehensions concerning the sensitive issues of morality, security and monopoly”.
Currently, Subhash Chandra-promoted ASC Enterprises is the only private DTH player in the country. Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati also has a similar service, but only for free-to-air channels. Tata-Star joint venture for DTH, Space TV’s application is pending with the government.