In a recent report uploaded by TRAI on its website, it was found that nearly 140 Pay TV channels have gone against the Standards of Quality of Service Regulations by failing to stick to the advertisement code set out in the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994. According to the quarterly report received by TRAI from the broadcasters, nearly 101 general entertainment television channels and 39 news channels aired more than 12 minutes of advertisements (both commercial and self promotional) per hour between 23rd February and 1st March this year. Out of these, six news channels aired more than 20 minutes of ads per hour during its prime time starting from 7pm to 10 pm. However, the figures mentioned here constitutes only a part of the industry, while most of the channels have failed to submit their report.
The Rule 7 (11) of Cable Television Network (Regulations) 1994 prohibits more than 12 minutes of ads including 2 minutes of channels’ own promotion, keeping in mind the interest of the consumers. However, no channel ever adhered to the rule due to laxity of the I&B officials.
After the commencement of mandatory digitization, TRAI framed the Standards of Quality of Service Regulations issued on 22nd March, 2013 with an aim to provide quality services to the consumers and to protect their interest, who pays a monthly subscription to the broadcasters through the MSOs and LCOs for their entertainment. The primary reason for the regulator to bring this directive was due to the increasing violation of Cable Television Networks Rules 1994. These regulations also included the 12 minutes ad cap to ensure its implementation by all broadcasters.
Thus, to keep an eye on the broadcasters and to ensure compliance of these regulations, broadcasters were directed by the regulatory body to report the duration of advertisements carried on their channels on a quarterly basis in a prescribed Performa. But the recent reports reveal a very shocking figure listing nearly 140 channels violating the advertisement code in spite of the fact that there are more than 800 television channels in India, and not all of them have submitted their report.
Although a number of GEC channels had agreed to stick to the 12 minutes ad cap many, particularly the news and business channels had gone to the court challenging TRAI’s regulations. The Delhi High Court had even directed the TRAI not to take any coercive action against these channels until a final decision is pronounced by the court. But our Indian law is such that it takes years to decide a case even though a law already exists. In such a scenario the question arises as to how long the consumers have to compromise in their entertainment and with their money paid to the service providers for quality services.
Although recently I&B Minister,Arun Jaitely indicated that the government is considering the matter seriously , on the other hand he said that the matter should be best left to the consumers to decide rather than government dictating terms to the industry. He also remarked that, if the viewers find it monotonous to view ads then they have the power to switch on to something else rather than government getting into the business of how much news or ads should be aired by a TV channel. In fact, Jaitley’s predecessor ,Prakash Jhavadekar was of the view that all free-to-air (FTA) channels should be exempted from adhering to the ad cap.
TRAI had issued an amended Regulation on 27 August 2012 that provided some vested power to the regulator as well. It clearly indicates that TRAI has the power to interfere and ensure compliance of the provisions of these regulations whenever it feels that the interest of the subscribers has been compromised. The regulatory body opines that the advertisements carried on by the broadcaster in their programme are a quality of service issue as they interfere with the smooth broadcast of a programme, and intrusion of advertisements during the telecast of a programme adversely affects the viewing experience of the consumer.
Through an order dated in January 2004, Central Government under Section 11(1)(d) of TRAI Act entrusted some additional functions to TRAI including the function to recommend the parameters for regulating maximum time for advertisements in pay channels as well as other channels. However, TRAI notes that the provisions in these regulations do not attempt to disturb the time limit fixed by the government regarding duration of advertisement i.e. 12 minutes per hour.