The passage of the Cable TV bill for Digitisation of cable TV in India has been accomplished in such a great hurry, without even completing the recommendation of TRAI given in 2010. However, an infructuous Bill called the Second Amendment to Cable TV Act Bill, is pending finalization in the Standing Committee of the Parliament on Communication and IT. Very few in the industry know the existence of this Bill that will restrict the transmission of any unregistered channel on cable TV networks. Very introduction of such a Bill makes me suspicious of government intentions when there are already many provisions in the existing Cable TV Act that do not permit any cable operator to transmit any unauthorized content. Also, Guidelines for Downlinking do restrict downlinking of any unregistered TV channel.
Another surprising fact in the amendment is that in the modern age when TV channels are received on internet, through IPTV, Mobile TV etc, the Bill puts the restrictions only on Cable Networks.
Perhaps the Bill is the outcome of the Home Ministry's observations in 2010 on illegal transmission of some TV channels. Taking cognizance of the illegal and unauthorised down-linking of foreign channels that were not conducive to the security environment in the country by multi-system operators/cable operators, the Union home ministry had directed the Union information and broadcasting ministry to take action against such operators and curb the carriage of the unauthorised channels.
The Union information and broadcasting ministry in turn wrote to the chief secretaries of all the states in the country giving list of operators, who were down linking and telecasting the unauthorised TV channels and requesting them to ensure that carriage of the unregistered channels was discontinued. Four towns of Mapusa, Bicholim, Margao and Vasco were identified in Goa where the illegal channels were being down-linked and telecast.
As per rule 6(6) of Cable TV Networks Rules, 1994, a cable operator is permitted to carry only those channels which are registered with the ministry under the policy guidelines for down linking of TV channels in India. The unregistered channels that are telecast in India are QTV, Madni TV, ARY TV, PTV, PTV Home, PTV World, Geo TV, Dawn, Express, Waqat, Noor TV, Hadi TV, Aaj, Filmax, STV (all up linked from Pakistan), Peace TV (Dubai), Saudi TV, TV Maldivis, NTV (Bangladesh), XYZ TV, Nepal, Kantipur (all from Nepal), Ahmedia Channel (United Kingdom) and Bhutan Broadcasting Service. Most of these channels are from Pakistan.
Some of the points noticed in the Bill that need amendment are given below:
The Bill mentions restrictions on only the cable operators. Since MSO (A Multi System Operator) has been defined in the Act, it should also be mentioned along with the Cable Operator.
Unregistered channels are also carried through IPTV, Mobile TV and Video streaming, direct to subscribers without the help of a cable operator that should be added in the Bill.
The new Clause 5(A) (2) of the Amendment Bill makes the sub-section (1) applicable irrespective of the manner of reception of such satellite or terrestrial television broadcast or channel. This Clause should not include video channel, which a cable operator is permitted under Sec 2 (g) of the Cable Operator Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 but there are no guidelines to register them. A cable operator may receive these video channels from an MSO or generate his own, adhering to the programme and advertisement codes mentioned in the Rules of the Cable TV Act.
I feel that instead of introducing such a Bill in the Parliament, Government should create enough public Awareness by Government: We also suggest that the government should make the public aware of the unregistered channels as and when it comes to their knowledge, through press releases and putting their list on various government websites because it is the subscribers who force cable operators to show these channels. Particularly subscribers of some communities who see these channels in other countries, demand the same here too.
Since implementation of the Cable TV Act in the states is through Clause 'A' officers, these lists as well as list of registered channels should also be placed on the state government websites in their state language.
Another glaring anomaly in the law is that even for the registered channels there are only Guidelines and not a Law as in the case of cable TV. Cable TV act only regulates content on cable TV networks but it does not touch upon any content beamed by a broadcaster.
These policy guidelines exist for downlinking and uplinking of satellite channels with effect from 2006. These guidelines, although provide the basic policy, do not stand the test of the law in the courts.
These Guidelines are flouted rampantly by the registered satellite channels who after repeated violations, are let off by just giving an advisory or running an apology on the channel in an insignificant manner or at the most switch off the channel for a day or two. This is hardly a deterrent for these powerful broadcasters, who so often blackmail the government through their news channels.
All laws, penalties, punishments are meant for cable operators, who are too small stake holders in the value chain. There are no punishments or penalties for broadcasters, who are powerful, have high contacts and violate all content /advertisement codes and other guidelines.
- News Channels are known to run 'paid news'.
- Channels broadcast shows that denigrate women and children.
- In the name of public interest, programmes are repeatedely shown where they can blackmail the government for vested interests or create anti-government sentiments for political motives.
- News channels often carry out media trials of various cases and events.
- To gain TRPs, they repeatedly show indecent and obscene videos in the name of news.
- Show misleading advertisements, that spread misconceptions and encourage superstitions.
During the discussion on the third Amendment Bill for cable television in the Parliament, every MP brought out the need to regulate the content of TV channels but there is no initiative by the government in this regards. They have been only asked to self regulate because whenever the government tried to regulate them, they protested vehemently through various lobbies like FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM, IBF, NBA and News Broadcaster Editors' Association.
Broadcasters Invest in MSOs, to Arm Twist Cable Operators. Some large Broadcast houses have invested in some MSO companies or made their own MSOs, who provide content to thousands of LCOs and also act as Pay Channel distributors and arm-twist the small operators/MSO(I)s to extract more revenue from the public. Since the last mile cable operator serves the consumer direct, it is he who is made an accused in any content violation. Police hardly get to lay their hands on the MSOs or the Broadcasters.
The Government needs to view the scene in broader prospect, rather than focus only on the small operators. Some of the suggestions inspired by laws in other developed countries are given below:
Foreign Channels come to India to exploit our vast population. They sell to our people, the same content that they make and broadcast in their country, thus making double profits. Government must make these channels pay more for registration.
Like it is done in many European and other countries, there are restrictions on foreign channels that they must generate a percentage of their content (50% is typical) locally, it does not happen in India. We should also give downlinking permission to foreign channels, only after they agree to create 50% of their content within India.
Most of the revenue generated by these foreign channels is sent out of India to their country of origin. Whereas they benefit tremendously from our large population. Country does not benefit from them. In view of this, they should be registered only as free-to-air channels, at least for the first five years or till they generate 50% content in India. This will make our own content production industry also flourish.
Foreign based pay channels, after they have generated 50% content within India, should be permitted to become 'Pay' channels only at half the rate what is fixed for our Indian channels that generate 100% content in India.
Registration of HD/ 3D Pay Channels / Premium channels should be done at a much higher registration fee than ordinary channels. Registration charges may be linked with the cost of the pay channels per subscriber or as per different subscription slabs eg. Free to Air, Rs 1-5, Rs 6-10, Rs 11 upwards etc.
Step-motherly Treatment to Cable TV Operators
Cable Television Industry was put under TRAI for the purpose of Regulations in 2004. TRAI has carried out more than 30 consultations with the Industry and given their recommendations. However, sad to say that not even a single recommendation for the benefit of Cable Operators has been accepted and implemented. This has left a big gap in the regulatory mechanism for the industry, mostly tilted in favour of large broadcast companies. Both I&B Ministry as well as TRAI are heavily influenced by broadcaster lobby who use organizations like FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM, CASBAA, MPA, NBA, IBF, NBEA and their lawyers, before any regulations are drafted.
This has widened the differences amongst the stake holders where in large broadcast companies have been permitted to increase their monopolies in every field and every platform unfettered, but cable TV industry has been left to die its own death. This, infact is one of the major hurdle in the process of Digitalisation.
All over the world, cable TV networks have been encouraged to grow as country's Broadband networks which contribute tremendously to their economy but in India cable operators, who created this industry connecting more than 100 million households, are being edged out by broadcasters.
Some of the prominent regulations/ actions suggested by TRAI, badly needed to protect the industry and consumers at large are given below:
- Restructuring of Cable TV Industry. Deals with improving cable TV infrastructure.
- Cross Media Restrictions. Absence of this has increased monopolies in the Industry.
- Entry of Certain Entities into Broadcasting. Deals with political parties entering in Broadcasting.
- Interoperability. Deals with consumers using the same STB for utilizing services of different service providers.
- Convergence and Competition in Broadcasting and Telecomm-unications.
- Private Terrestrial TV Broadcasting Services.
- Value Additions Services.
So far the Government has accepted only those recommendations that help the large players. Some of the issues like Tariff for Pay Channels, issued by TRAI have been taken to courts by the Broadcasters and never implemented. Some of these are given below:-
FDI. Since cable TV infrastructure has not been looked after by the Government, it does not attract any FDI. Hence, increase in FDI to 74% has no meaning for them. However, it has helped large foreign Broadcast Groups to induct their own funds into India and create monopolies through cartelisation.
Media Ownership. There are no restrictions on cross media ownership. This has helped these big Media Groups to create many TV channels, DTH for direct broadcast, Cable Networks through MSO Companies, Content Production Houses, Online Media, Radio, News Papers etc.
Mobile TV and IPTV. Both these services were notified within months to help large Telecom companies get into TV distribution domain, competing with small cable operators.
HITS. This technology for nationwide cable networking using satellite was cleared to help one large Media Group after progress of smaller players was halted by deferring CAS implementation, even after the Law was cleared by the Parliament in 2003.
DTH. This technology for TV distribution was also introduced so that the Large Media Groups including a Foreign Company could go direct to consumers bypassing cable operators. They were permitted to use CAS all over India in 2003, when the same was deferred for implementation on cable, to give an upper hand to broadcasters. The first three DTH players were Dish TV (Zee Group), TataSky ( Star TV and Tatas) and Sun Direct (Sun TV Group). Telecom companies entered the field later.
The above has increased the domination of Indian Media scene by a handful of Foreign Broadcasting Groups and Indian Media companies leaving the smaller players in the lurch. These issues, in particular, the issue of content regulation must be considered seriously by the government if the nation has to be saved from the adverse effects of uncontrolled television content and large Media monopolies. Stopping a few unregistered channels in cable networks will not help so much as all these channels can be viewed on the internet, on which the government cannot do much.