Broadcasters have to report duration of ads on a quarterly basis

Holding television channels in breach of existing rules, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has mandated broadcasters to restrict advertising-time on their channels to a maximum of 12 minutes per hour. To “effectively monitor the duration of the advertisement” and to “ensure that broadcasters comply with the legislation in this regard,” the TRAI has now made it contingent for broadcasters to report duration of ads on a quarterly basis.

The decision comes after prolonged consultations TRAI had with broadcasters, consumer groups, and cable operators. But the regulator’s move has drawn a fierce backlash from the broadcasters.

The time-limit of 12 minutes for ads-per-hour has remained the same as in the earlier regulation. But TRAI found, on the basis of a sample report submitted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and data provided by broadcasters of pay channels, that this was observed more in breach than practice. In an explanatory note, it stated: “The issue… needs to be addressed for giving a respite to the consumer from onslaught of prolonged duration of advertisements and thereby to enhance his quality of viewing experience of TV channels.”

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) expressed “deep shock and concern,” and said it was “appalled” that TRAI had issued “sweeping and intrusive controls” in the name of regulation. It added that the decision comes at a time when news channels were facing “a most unfriendly business environment,” with slow advertising, high carriage fees, no benefits from digitisation yet, and no advertising from the government’s Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP).

The NBA alleged that the TRAI’s restrictions amounted to “control of content” which undermined the constitutional rights of broadcasters, and would force many news channels to shut down.

“With the general elections looming ahead, it would appear this is an attempt to muzzle the media,” the broadcasters’ association said in the statement. It appealed to the government to hold the regulation in abeyance, and recommence DAVP advertising on “fair and acceptable” rates.

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