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Delhi HC clubs petition against ad cap violations by pay channels with main case

MUMBAI: The Delhi High Court has clubbed Home Cable Network owner Vikki Choudhry’s petition against ad cap violation by pay broadcasters like Star India and Discovery Communications with the main case, which is slated to be heard by the court on 1 August.

“It is brought to our notice that W.P.(C)7982/2013 in which an identical issue is involved stands posted to 1 August 2016. Hence, this petition be also listed along with W.P.(C)7982/2013 on 1 August 2016,” Justice Jayanta Nath said in an order on 27 May.

Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) counsel Anil Soni accepted the notice on behalf of the government. The bench directed him to file necessary response before the next date of hearing.

In the previous hearing, Choudry’s counsel Vivek Sarin had prayed that the present matter be listed before the first division bench, which is also hearing a writ petition involving a similar issue.

Choudhry has sought cancellation of Star India and Discovery Communication’s licences for violating the 12-minute ad cap rule. Incidentally, other pay broadcasters are also crossing the 12-minute ad limit during primetime, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) reports.

As per the latest report, 133 pay news and non-news broadcasters violated the ad cap rule during peak hours (7–10 pm) for the period 28 December 2015 to 27 March 2016.

The ad cap case was challenged by news, music and regional broadcasters in the Delhi High Court against TRAI’s decision to amend Standard of Quality of Service (QoS) by capping ad duration at 12 minutes per clock hour.

The matter first went to the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) where it was extensively heard. As the tribunal was preparing to proclaim its judgement in the matter, the Supreme Court in a dispute between BSNL vs TRAI ruled that the TDSAT does not have jurisdiction to entertain challenge to TRAI regulations.

The appellants immediately moved the Delhi High Court, which granted an interim stay by directing TRAI not to take coercive action against the petitioners. It also directed the petitioners to submit weekly reports in the prescribed format to TRAI.

Since then the matter has been getting adjourned due to one reason or the other. Later, Home Cable Network also impleaded itself in the matter contending that petitions challenging ad cap be quashed.

The MIB, which is a respondent in the matter, has told the court more than once that the matter is in consideration of the government.

Former I&B minister Prakash Javadekar had earlier said that the government was considering exempting free-to-air (FTA) channels from the 12-minute rule since these channels do not charge subscription fee and are dependent on ad revenue for sustenance.

Arun Jaitley, who succeeded Javadekar as the I&B minister with a cabinet rank, said that the government should not be dictating how much ads a TV channel or a newspaper can carry.