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Govt Shouldn’t Distribute Or Set Up TV Channels: TRAI


The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended that no state body (like the state or central government) should be allowed to own or distribute its own television channel. The Authority adds that allowing a fully owned State government owned company is not in compliance with the rules laid down by the Supreme Court of India; the critical point which the SC referred to in its ruling was “Government Control”, stating that “such control is bound to color and may even distort news, views and opinions”. Government control could extend to all kinds of state government owned companies, undertakings, joint ventures and funded entities, and hence the TRAI has recommended that joint ventures in a PPP model should also not be allowed.

Another important clause that has been a part of these recommendations has been TRAI’s suggestion to amend the definition of ‘person’ as contained in sub-clauses (ii) and (iii) of clause (e) of section 2 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. The authority has suggested that to remove the ambiguity associated with the term ‘person’. Hence it has suggested to the MIB to clarify that entities such as State Governments and their instrumentalities, urban and local bodies, 3-tier Panchayati Raj bodies, publicly funded bodies, political parties and religious bodies do not fall within this definition of ‘person’.

These recommendations are an instrument to keep in check the airing of neutral information and programs, and hence the TRAI has also recommended that Prasar Bharti continue to remain autonomous, and the arm’s length relationship between Prasar Bharti and the Government be further strengthened.

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The Authority has also recommended that in case the Central Government has already accorded permission to any state entity to enter into the cable distribution platform, then the Central Government should provide an appropriate exit route.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) had sent a reference dated 30th November 2012 to TRAI seeking its recommendations on the issue of whether bodies and persons like Central Government Ministries, Central/State Government Departments, Central/State Government owned companies, Central/State Government undertakings, joint venture of the Central/State Governments and the private sector and Central/State Government funded entities may be allowed to enter in to the business of broadcasting and/or distribution of TV channels.

Nikhil adds: Should BSNL and MTNL also not be distributing TV Channels? What about DD Direct, which is a DTH service? Why is the TRAI restricting recommendations regarding distribution to Cable TV alone? I guess, it’s a question of scale.

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Summary of TRAI’s recommendations (source)

A brief summary of the recommendations are as follows:
1) The Authority recommends that the Central Government Ministries and Departments, Central Government owned companies, Central Government. undertakings, Joint ventures of the Central Government and the private sector and Central Government funded entities should not be allowed to enter into the business of broadcasting and/or distribution of TV channels.
2) The Authority recommends that State Government Departments, State Government owned companies, State Government undertakings, Joint ventures of the State Government and the private sector, and State Government funded entities should not be allowed to enter into the business of broadcasting and/or
distribution of TV channels.
3) The Authority recommends that the arm’s length relationship between Prasar Bharti and the Government be further strengthened. The Authority also recommends that such measures should ensure functional independence and autonomy of Prasar Bharti.
4) The Authority recommends that, pending enactment of any new legislation on broadcasting, the disqualifications stated below for political bodies to enter into broadcasting and/or distribution activities should be implemented through executive decision by incorporating the disqualifications into Rules, Regulations and Guidelines as necessary.

“Disqualification of political bodies.
(a) A body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature;
(b) A body affiliated to a body, referred to in clause (a);
(c) An individual who is an officer of a body, referred to in clause (a) or (b);
(d) A body corporate, which is an associate of a body corporate referred to in
clause (a) or (b);
(e) A body corporate, in which a body referred to in any of clauses (a) and
(b) is a participant with more than a five per cent interest;
(f) A body which is controlled by a person referred to in any of clauses (a) to
(d) or by two or more persons, taken together;
(g) A body corporate, in which a body referred to in clause (f), other than one which is controlled by a person, referred to in clause (c) or by two or more such persons, taken together, is a participant with more than a five percent interest.”

5) The Authority recommends that in case the Central Government has already accorded permission to any State Government/State Government owned companies/State Government undertakings/Joint venture of the State Government and the private sector/State Government funded entities to enter into the cable distribution platform, then the Central Government should provide an appropriate exit route.