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TRAI in a bind over CAS row

14-February-2004
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TRAI in a bind over CAS row

As the Delhi High Court's review deadline for CAS is still some distance away, newly appointed regulator for the broadcasting industry TRAI is in a veritable bind. With TRAI chairman Pradip Baijal having just returned from the US after examining broadcast regulation in detail, the final consultation paper to be released on February 18 is likely to hold the key to solving the problem.

At present, all stakeholders have sent in their responses to the preliminary consultation paper. TRAI is currently examining case laws pertaining to the issue. The twin issues at the centre of the imbroglio are tariff regulation and regulation of advertising on pay channels.

The Delhi High Court in December had refused to stay the implementation of CAS till April 5 - when the next hearing is planned - on the grounds that prima facie it seemed to be in the consumer's interest.

A final call on CAS will be taken after the review hearing. In the interim, the court had directed the government to formulate a policy to categorise channels earning revenue through ads and subscriptions. This by extension would translate into either banning or restricting ads on pay channels.

The problems related to pay channel regulation comes from the Indian Express case wherein freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 was taken up to prevent the government from blocking ads to the paper after the Emergency.

Vaibhav Parikh, head, technology law practice, Nishith Desai Associates said: "If TRAI tries to ban advertisements on pay channels then its position can certainly be challenged, since TRAI has the mandate of regulating tariffs from the consumer's point of view and not from the advertisers."

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