Calls for policy framework against government departments in broadcasting business

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) that policy framework be put in place to ensure that departments or undertakings of Central and State governments not be allowed to enter into the business of broadcasting and or distribution of TV channels.

In response to a query raised by the Ministry in November, with specific emphasis on whether companies floated by governments could be allowed to enter into distribution activities, the Authority noted that it had been unanimously decided in 2008 not to allow Central or State governments. It reasserted its stand to the Ministry and recommended evolving policy framework to the effect. In case the Central government had already given permission to any government-owned company, it has been asked to provide for an appropriate exit route.

The letter and the recommendations are available on TRAI’s website – www.trai.gov.in.

The development could impact the Tamil Nadu government-run multi-system operator Arasu Cable TV’s future. Its application for a licence to operate in Chennai under the Digital Addressable System (DAS) has been pending with the Ministry for months. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has already written on the issue to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and her party MPs have raised it in Parliament.

In his letter, TRAI secretary Sudhir Gupta wrote to the Ministry that deliberations had already been conducted in 2008 over permitting Central and State governments to run to run their own channels or get into the business of distribution. It cited the views of Sarkaria Commission that examined suggestions for constitutional amendments to transfer ‘broadcasting’ from Union List to State List or Concurrent List. The Commission viewed that “it cannot be forgotten that it is a political party which controls the Union Executive. Lest there be a temptation to use these powerful media wrongly in the party interest and not necessarily in national interest,” the Commission had recommended against allowing State governments from having their own broadcasting Corporations.

TRAI also quoted a Supreme Court judgement in a case involving Cricket Association of Bengal in 1995 stating “the broadcasting media should be under the control of the public as distinct from Government.” The authority also noted that in almost all developed democratic countries, the governments were explicitly debarred under relevant laws from holding broadcasting licence.