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Cable networks can run local ‘affairs’ channels, no need to lower FDI: TRAI

MUMBAI: Multi-system operators (MSOs) can run local ‘affairs’ cable channels without capping their foreign direct investment (FDI) at 26 per cent in line with the satellite news broadcasters, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) recommendations on ‘Regulatory Framework for Platform Services’ (PS).

While allowing cable operators to run such channels, the sector regulator made it clear that there could be no transmit of national or international news by them. TRAI recommended that only local affairs and information bulletins sourced entirely from local resources should be allowed on PS channels run by a cable operator.

The sector regulator also said that distribution platform operators (DPOs) need not lower their FDI limit. “One related issue that needs consideration is the lower FDI limits allowed for broadcasters carrying news and current affairs (read satellite news channels). In this regard, since news and current affairs are not recommended for PS, this will not apply to DPOs offering PS,” TRAI said.

While recognising the popularity of cable channels because of the ‘local affairs bulletins’ that they carried, the authority pointed out that allowing DPOs to freely include news content in their PS is neither fair to satellite news broadcasters, who are subjected to stringent regulatory norms in India for news broadcast, nor advisable as unregulated dissemination of news also has significant security implications.

TRAI also stated that “news from news agency sources or national/international news derived from broadcast TV channels cannot be permitted to be transmitted as content of PS”.

In so far as carrying local news and current affairs bulletins on PS is concerned, TRAI has treated the following categories as non-news and current affairs broadcast and which, therefore, will be permissible. They are:

(i) Information about local events and other local affairs, sourced locally and not obtained from news agencies or from broadcast news channels/ sources;

(ii) Information pertaining to sporting events, excluding live coverage. However, live commentaries of sporting events of local nature may be permissible, if broadcasting rights to the same are not held by anyone else;

(iii) Information pertaining to traffic and weather;

(iv) Information pertaining to and coverage of cultural events, festivals;

(v) Coverage of topics pertaining to examinations, results, admissions, career counselling;

(vi) Availability of employment opportunities; and

(vii) Public announcements pertaining to civic amenities like electricity, water supply, natural calamities, health alerts, etc. as provided by the local administration.

Keeping in view the potential of local bulletins to lead to law and order problems, the TRAI recommended that the DPO obtain prior permission from the authorised officer in this regard. The state government, however, should not charge any fees for according such permission.

TRAI has also asked DPOs offering PS services to ensure full adherence to the Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

TRAI noted that FDI limits and net worth requirements are already provided for in the various regulations applicable to the different types of DPOs, to the extent necessary.

Further, it pointed out that most DPOs are already providing PS on their networks; therefore, it can be inferred that the present limits/requirements are adequate in enabling the DPOs to offer PS.

No changes in the existing FDI limits or net worth requirements need, therefore, be considered or proposed just for PS, TRAI stated.

The TRAI recommended the definition of PS as follows: “Platform services are programmes transmitted by distribution platform operators exclusively to their own subscribers and does not include Doordarshan channels and registered TV channels. PS shall not include foreign TV channels that are not registered in India.”

The regulation states that the genesis of the present exercise lies in the concerns expressed in the 36th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology (2011–12), which is to ensure that the PS transmitted on their networks do not contain anything illegal and that they are responsible for adherence to the applicable rules and regulations in the same way as broadcasters.

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