Bombay HC refuses to grant interim relief to broadcasters in TRAI tariff matter

MUMBAI: TV broadcasters today failed to secure interim relief from the Bombay High Court against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India‘s (TRAI) amendments to the new regulatory framework.

The bench of of Justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice RI Chagla was hearing petitions filed by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and its members like Star India, ZEEL, TV18, Viacom18, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI), Zoom Entertainment and Film & Television Producers Guild of India.

It has given one week’s time to TRAI to file its affidavit giving reasons as to why it has amended the tariff order and the regulations. The matter has been adjourned to 22nd January.

Even though no interim relief has been provided, there is an understanding that the TRAI may not take coercive action against the broadcasters since the matter is sub-judice.

The broadcasters prayed for setting aside the tariff order and the regulations as it provides an unreasonably short period of time to comply with the provisions. The petitioners also noted that they have to file modified reference interconnect offers (RIOs) by 15th January and execute over 100,000 agreements within 15 days.

The IBF was represented by senior counsel Apsi Chinoy and Gopal Jain along with Abhishek Malhotra, Sapna Chaurasia and Sneha Herwade of TMT Law Practice while TRAI was represented by Ashish Pyasi along with Dinesh Jadhwani and Soumya Dubey of Dhir and Dhir Associates.

The broadcasters had sought a stay on the amended tariff order and regulations contending that the TRAI sought to overhaul the entire method and manner in which broadcasters conduct their business. They also argued that the broadcast industry was just adapting to the MRP regime which came into force in February 2019.

The IBF and other petitioners also contended that the broadcasters, on an average, have lost 50% of the subscribers to whom their channels were reaching compared to the previous regime. This has impacted the ad as well as the subscription revenue of the broadcasters.

It has also been averred that through the recent amendments the TRAI has taken away the independence of the broadcasters to offer channels in a commercially viable manner through the bouquet. The MRP of channels that can be offered through bouquet has also been reduced to Rs 12 from Rs 19 which is lower than the rate at which broadcasters offered their content in 2016.

The broadcasters also stated that the distribution platform operators (DPOs) are being given further independence even as their freedom is being taken away. It has also been argued that the changes are bereft of any empirical data or evidence. The broadcasters have prayed for striking down the amended tariff order and regulations since they violate Article 14, Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g).

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