Within a day of TRAI moving to prosecute 17 television channels for non-compliance of the advertisement cap regulation, Broadcasters met TDSAT and got a relief till November 11. In an earlier order passed by TDSAT on August 30, the Tribunal had asked TRAI not to take any “coercive action” against news channels for not implementing the agreed ad restrictions. This was a reaction to TRAI moving a Delhi court recently while issuing notices to 17 channels for not adhering to a 16-minute advertising cap per clock hour for non-news channels and a 20-minute cap for news channels which was part of a phased shift to 10+2 ad cap as agreed by all the broadcasters in a meeting with TRAI on 27 May 2013. In response to the NBA application, the TDSAT chairperson, Justice Aftab Alam, questioned TRAI on why it has initiated prosecution against broadcasters in the Delhi CMM Court for violating regulations, while TDSAT is currently seized of the matter and why TRAI had failed to keep the Tribunal informed before taking such a decision. Justice Alam specifically stated that while the Tribunal may not have the powers to quash the complaints filed by TRAI before the CMM Court, New Delhi, it was within its powers to grant the stay on the amended quality of service (QoS) regulations.
Channels that have been issued the notices include Sun TV, Maa TV, Zoom, Etv Marathi, Gujarati and Bangla, Zee News, IBN Lokmat, TV Today. The compliance was part of an informal understanding after TRAI in May demanded the implementation of a 12-minute cap on advertisements per clock hour. Broadcasters were told to shift to 12 minutes by October 1.
News Broadcasters had met TDSAT on August 30 and sought to halt the implementation of ad restrictions. The broadcasters have questioned TRAI’s jurisdiction in ordering the ad cap. NBA said that TRAI had only a recommendatory role to play as evident in I&B Ministry’s notification of 2004when broadcasting services were brought under the ambit of 5telecommunication services. TRAI had issued a Quality of Service Regulation last year on 30 April that restricted the advertisement duration on TV channels to 10 minutes in each clock hour. In addition a broadcaster could use 2 minutes per hour for own promotion. TDSAT in its interim order also stated that News Broadcasters Association (NBA) did not have to maintain weekly records of implementing the ad restrictions and submit them to TRAI. The reports only need to be submitted to TDSAT.
Right from the day the notification was issued, broadcasters have been urging the authorities to reconsider the ad restrictions directive. Their plea is that benefits of digitization have not started coming as yet in terms of true viewership and reduction in carriage fee. Earlier this month, NBA had issued a statement urging the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and TRAI to issue a notification to keep the implementation of the 10+2 ad cap in abeyance. The NBA maintained that news channels will incur revenue losses exceeding Rs 500 crore if the ad cap is implemented at this stage.
What actually surprises is that why should a tribunal take a soft stand for one of the stake holders in the industry when every other stake holder has to equally suffer the transition problems while the industry is migrating from analogue to digital. The appellate authority has described TRAI's decision as "drastic", amounting to over-reach and interference in the broadcasters' right to speech. It is strange that TRAI had moved a similar coercive action against a dozen of LCOs in Delhi last month and there was not even a line of news in any news paper or electronic media.
Even the Minister Mr Manish Tewari has been making statements in favour of the broadcasters knowing fully well that this is part of the Cable TV Rules 1994 as amended. May be it is the election time and Minister understand the importance of TV news channels.