TDSAT issues notice to TRAI on 'MediaWatch-India's appeal against TRAI's amended ad regulations dropping provisions relating to 'part-screen' & loud commercials in TV channels
The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on 31 October 2013 adjourned till 11 November the case on ad cap regulation. The issue of 10+2 minute ad cap on TV channels is becoming murkier. Only yesterday ie 30 October. Mediawatch India, a consumer organisation has appealed against TRAI for diluting the quality of service regulations in TV Advertisement by removing clauses concern sudden increase in sound volume during ads, ‘part screen’ drop down ads and crowing ads on TV screen interfering the main programme.
TDSAT Chairman Justice Afton Alam and member Kuldip Singh also rejected the interventions filed by Zee, Star and Viacom18, with the Tribunal asking them to file separate applications.
Interestingly it is learnt that they are not in favour of any dilution in ad cap duration.
Several broadcasters had moved the TDSAT seeking relief from the 10+2 ad cap regulation prescribed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) is the lead petitioner in the case. The tribunal had fixed the hearing date for today.
The news channels are seeking relief from the 10+2 ad cap regulation prescribed by TRAI.
Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi on behalf of the NBA sought time as the pleadings were not ready.
Some regional channels from Kerala also wanted to intervene as petitioners, but TDSAT said their matter would be heard after the main hearing.
Channels that sought to move to the court today included 9X, B4U, TV Vision and Pioneer Channel Factory of Mumbai, Sun TV Network of Chennai, E24 Glamour, Polimer Media, Reliance Big Network, Eenadu TV, Sarthak Entertainment and Raj TV.
Meanwhile, TRAI had been forbidden on 30 August from taking any ‘coercive action’ against news channels who are not abiding by the agreement relating to advertisement time on news channels.
Our sources have also informed that some more consumer organisations plan to implede themselves in the case to protect consumer interest.
Allowing the appeal filed by „MediaWatch-India, TDSAT on 30 October 2013 issued notice to TRAI on the amended TV ad regulations dt. 22-3-2013. The appeal reflects the interests of viewers who are presently harassed with indiscriminate 'part-screen' ads, scrolling ads and 'loud' commercials, apart from excessive duration of ads. The appeal asserts the audience' due right to have a decent viewing experience and reminds TRAI about its statutory responsibility to check the illegal and unfair practices of TV broadcasters who had been indulging in 'part-screen' &„ high-decibel' ads.
The appeal, in fine, challenged the abrupt, unilateral & mala fide act of TRAI in omitting subregulations 3(5) & 3(6) Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisements in Television Channels) Regulations, 2012 dated 14-5-2012 which originally sought to regulate 'part-screen' ads and loud commercials in TV channels (apart from limitation on duration of ads - 12 minutes per clock hour).The appeal also prayed for directions to TRAI to make the ad regulations applicable to local cable TV services also, apart from the satellite TV channels.
The background for the appeal is as follows:
Section 11 (1) (b) of the TRAI Act mandates TRAI to ensure compliance of terms and conditions of licence and to lay down the standards of quality of service to be provided by the service providers and to ensure the quality of services so provided so as to protect interests of the consumers.
In case of satellite & cable television, the quality of viewing experience of the viewers is directly linked to and depends on the quality of service provided by the broadcasters and cable service providers to the consumers/audience. Therefore, with the stated objective of “striking a balance between giving a consumer a good TV viewing experience and protecting the commercial interests of broadcasters and to ensure that the broadcasters comply with the relevant statutory stipulations enshrined in Advertising Code under Cable Networks Rules, 1994”, TRAI notified the “Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisements in Television Channels) Regulations” dated 14th May 2012.
The said regulations, inter aliasoughtto regulate the following three aspects:
Duration of advertisements in TV channels (twelve minutes per clock hour with some other conditions)
Distracting formats of advertisements (Part-screen & drop down ads, scrolls etc. interfering the main programme)(Sub-regulation 3(5))
Loud Commercials (High audio levels of advertisements vis-à-vis that of programme) (Sub-regulation 3(6))
The said regulations are in line with and for the enforcement of the key service quality related stipulations under the extant Advertising Code which are concerned with audio level, format & duration of the advertisements that can be carried by the TV channels, viz., rules 7(11), 7(10) & 7(6) of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 respectively which are applicable to all private satellite TV channels, Cable Networks & IPTV service providers in the country.
However, the said regulations dt. 14-5-2012 by TRAI were challenged by some of the broadcasters before TDSAT. Later, based on Tribunal's direction, TRAI reconsidered the regulations and on 22-3-2013 notified amended regulations, viz., Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisements in Television Channels) (Amendment) Regulations, 2013.
While these amended regulations dt. 22-3-2013 retained the provision regarding enforcement of statutory limitation on duration of advertisements; sub-regulations 3(5) & 3(6) of original regulations dt.14-5-2012 (which sought to regulate 'format' & 'audio level' of TV advertisements respectively) were altogether omitted. This is but an abrupt, unreasonable and mala fide act of TRAI which is presumably done at the behest of the broadcasters who had all along been resisting the regulations owing to their business and profit considerations.
TRAI, in its consultation paper dt. 16-3-2012 and the Explanatory Memorandum to Regulations dt. 14-5-2012 noted elaborately about several complaints regarding the menace of high „audio levels‟ of advertisements and 'Part-screen advertisements' overlapping the regular programme. It also quoted independent research findings on the violations and gave a detailed reasoning and justification for the need to regulate 'audio level' and 'format' of advertisements in TV channels apart from regulating the duration of advertisements. Accordingly, it inserted sub-regulations 3(5) & 3(6) in the original regulations dt. 14-5-2012 but suddenly dropped them vide amended regulations dt. 22-3- 2013.
Unduly high audio levels during advertisements and Part-screen advertisements in various distracting formats interfering with the regular programme, (e.g., display of paid commercial ads and self-promotional advertisements on the lower, upper, side and corner portions of the TV screen by way of static and moving scrolls/tickers, images, graphics, flashes, pop ups, Picture-in-Picture (PIP), miniaturised videos, self promotional video clips of upcoming programmes etc.) are equally, if not more irritating than the excessive duration of advertisements on TV channels. Most of the non-news, entertainment channels have been airing highly distracting ads in the form of moving graphic image sand self-promotional video clips of upcoming programmes on the lower portion of the screen (often showing emotional situations, emotional faces of characters in close-up etc. to deliberately catch the attention of the viewer).While the full screen ads fed during commercial breaks are to some extent bearable where the audience has the option to skip the channel, the part-screen ads are real and continuous harassment for the viewers.
While TRAI was conferred with necessary powers way back in 2004 to lay down, monitor and ensure the standards of quality of service provided by the broadcasters & cable service providers so as to protect interests of the TV consumers, it has not taken any tangible measures till recently for the benefit of TV audience. As the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had all along been been playing a spectator role and not taking any action against the blatant violations by the broadcasters, the audience heaved a sigh of relief when TRAI, using its powers under the TRAI Act, notified the viewer-friendly regulations in 2012 to enforce the extant statutory stipulations regarding audio level, format and duration of advertisements on TV channels. However, the same TRAI silently omitted the said two sub-regulations 3(5) & 3(6) and completely diluted the original regulations without any justification which came as a rude shock for the entire gamut of TV audience.
The statutory responsibility of TRAI to lay down the standards of quality of service to be provided by the service providers and to ensure the quality of service provided by the service providers so as to protect interests of the consumers is not limited to telecommunications & broadcasting sectors alone but extends to cable TV services also. Further, the violations of service quality norms relating to duration, format & audio level of advertisements are rampant on local cable TV services also. However, the 'Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisements in Television Channels) Regulations, 2012' were made applicable only to private satellite television channels registered under 'Policy Guidelines for Uplinking of Television Channels from India' and 'Policy Guidelines for downlinking of Television Channels' and not to cable services. This is not only a discriminatory act but such failure of TRAI in discharging its mandatory statutory function in relation to cable TV services resulted in regulatory vacuum for quality of services rendered by local cable service providers and consumed by millions of cable TV consumers.