In a decision that has come as a breather to news broadcasters, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has restrained the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) from taking coercive action against channels for non-compliance of the 12-minute ad-cap rule. TRAI had filed a complaint on August 16 with the Delhi Chief Metropolitan Magistrate against 14 channels seeking criminal prosecution for non-compliance.

A bench headed by TDSAT Chairman, Justice Aftab Alam, issued an interim order saying, “Till further orders, TRAI shall not take any coercive step against the petitioner (News Broadcasters Association or NBA) or its members to follow its regulation.” The NBA has also been exempted from filing weekly reports about its ad-inventories to TRAI. Instead they have been asked to ‘maintain records faithfully, and submit it before the tribunal’. The tribunal took on record the amended appeal submitted by the NBA.

TRAI argued that NBA members were found in violation of their own commitment to stay within the ad-limit during the transition time. NBA said it had offered no such commitment, and flagged the issue of how broadcasters would face severe financial constraints if the rule was implemented.

While the order does not stay TRAI’s decision to enforce a 12 minute ad-cap from October 1, it deprives the regulator from any power to take action, which will give leeway to channels. “It takes the sting out of TRAI,” said an industry source.

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