Special Correspondent

`They were only taken off the air'

NEW DELHI: The Government on Monday denied banning Arab television channels and said the reason for the disappearance of channels like Aljazeera from the air was their failure to conform to the downlinking guidelines issued in November last year. Reacting to international media reports of a ban on Arab television channels, Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamad said: "There is no such ban; these reports are fantastic nonsense."

Denying a ban, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Priyaranjan Dasmunsi said all channels which had failed to conform to the downlinking guidelines had been taken off air. Cable operators had been instructed in May not to show any channel downlinking into India from overseas which had not applied for registration along with the processing fees by May 11.

Concession

While the downlinking guidelines had set a 180-day-deadline from November 11, 2005, for completion of all formalities of registration and obtaining permission for downlinking, the Ministry made a concession in May. As the deadline neared, the Ministry announced that all television channels yet to register in India could be shown by cable operators and direct-to-home (DTH) service providers after May 11 provided they had applied for registration along with the processing fees.

The downlinking guidelines mandate that "No cable operator or DTH service provider shall, after the expiry of 180 days from the date of this notification, carry or include in his cable/DTH network any television channel that has not been registered under these guidelines." But, after the concession was made, the Ministry informed cable networks and DTH platforms that they could continue to show applicant channels for another six months or till such time as the registration application is processed whichever is earlier.

As per the downlinking policy notified last year all television channels beaming into India from overseas must be a company registered in India under the Indian Companies Act, 1956, irrespective of equity structure, foreign ownership or management control. The applicant company must have a net worth of Rs. 1.5 crore for downlinking one channel and Rs. 1 crore each for every other channel it wants to beam into India.

In a related development, the Communist Party of India reacting to news reports condemned the "ban on Arab TV stations while allowing all other channels which support Israel's aggression and horrendous acts of bombings...." Condemning "this unfriendly move" against India's Arab neighbours, the CPI demanded withdrawal of the "ban."