Bombay HC refuses to grant ad-interim relief to broadcasters

Financial impact of new regulations will come into force only on March 1, says TRAI

January 15, 2020 01:40 am | Updated 01:40 am IST - Mumbai

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday refused to grant ad-interim relief to Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and general entertainment channels who have challenged the latest amendments to the sector tariffs by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

A Division Bench of Justices S.C. Dharmadhikari and R.I. Chagla was hearing a bunch of petitions filed by the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, Sony Pictures Networks, IBF, Disney Board, Asianet Star Communication and Star India against TRAI on January 13.

On January 1, 2020, the regulatory authority introduced new rules that reduces the cost of a channel from the existing ₹19 to ₹12 for the television broadcasters. The reduced price ceiling was to be included in their pack by January 15.

According to TRAI, subscribers are not choosing a-la-carte channels on account of bouquets being available at a discounted rate. In their petition, the IBF has said, “a normal Indian family is likely to choose one or more bouquets that would provide all such genres of channels as opposed to choosing a-la-carte channels of each category. It is submitted that consumer’s choice of TV channels is based on personal and demographic preferences such as age, sex, culture etc.”

The petition further mentions that, “it is manifestly arbitrary to unilaterally and without any application of mind whatsoever, reduce the price cap on the maximum price that a channel can be priced at in order to qualify being made part of a bouquet. There is especially not justification given to reduce the price ceiling.”

The common contentions are that such a restriction impinges the fundamental right guaranteed to them under Article 19 1 a (to freedom of speech and expression) and 19 1 g (to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the petitioners and that any restriction on these rights have to be reasonable. However, this cannot be considered as a reasonable restriction.”

The IBF petition adds, “the Broadcasters, content production companies, operators and their linked service providers together employ more than 10 lakh people in the sector. TRAI’s impugned provisions that virtually control everything from fixing of a ceiling price of a channel for inclusion in a bouquet and prescribing twin condition will negatively impact the financial viability of the business.”

However, senior counsel Venkatesh Dhond, appearing for TRAI, told the court that the broadcasters are only required to submit their revised tariff structure on January 15. He said, “The financial effect of the regulations will come only on March 1, 2020, he said.

The Bench refused to grant any relief and directed TRAI to file an affidavit by January 20. The matter will now be heard on January 22.

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