TDSAT disposes of petitions in broadcasters vs Prasar Bharati matter

MUMBAI: The Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has disposed of the petitions of broadcasters who challenged the Prasar Bharati’s decision to abruptly suspend e-auction of DD Free Dish slots in October 2017.

The petitions were disposed of as the Prasar Bharati has come out with its new e-auction policy to sell slots on DD Free Dish, which is a free direct to home (DTH) platform.

Prasar Bharati counsel informed the tribunal that the new policy governing such matters has been made public on 15th January 2019. The counsel also noted that broadcasters who were continuing on the basis of interim arrangement will no longer be entitled to continue on such basis after 28th February because the new policy which also contemplates for e-auction shall come into effect from 1st March.

“In view of the aforesaid submissions, which are not in dispute, all these petitions are held to be infructuous. For continuing beyond 28.02.2019, the petitioners will have to follow the provisions of the new policy under which the auction is scheduled for 11.02.2019,” TDSAT said in its order.

“It goes without saying that if somebody is aggrieved on account of new policy, it will be open for such entity to pursue its grievance in accordance with law. These petitions are disposed of accordingly.”

Close to seven broadcasters had filed petitions in TDSAT challenging Prasar Bharati’s decision to call off e-auction. The grievance of the broadcasters was against ad-hoc policy decisions of the public broadcaster which had the effect of petitioners’ TV channels going off air on the ground of expiry of the earlier agreement period.

The tribunal had granted interim protection to the broadcasters so that that they may not suffer on account of non-holding of e-auction.

It was clarified on 27th October 2017 that the interim order will not create any right or equity in favour of any one and the arrangement shall come to an end as soon as the Central Government declares its new general policy and take steps to fill up the slots in accordance with such policy.

It was also clarified that it will not be open for any broadcaster to claim any right to continue further on the basis of such an interim arrangement.

Prasar Bharati had notified the new guidelines for the allocation of DD Free Dish slots on 15th January. The DTH platform has an estimated 30 million customers.

The first e-auction under the new policy guidelines will be held on 11th February. As many as 56 slots will be up for grabs after discounting the 24 slots reserved for DD/Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha channels. The DTH platform has 80 slots on its platform.

The guidelines have mandated differential pricing for different genres. TV channels will be allowed to bid only in e-auctions specific to the genre (language) they belong to.

Five buckets have been created for e-auction of MPEG2 slots. With a reserve price of Rs 15 crore, Bucket A+ has been kept for Hindi GECs and Teleshopping channels while Bucket A has been dedicated for Hindi movie channels with a reserve price of Rs 12 crore.

The Hindi music channels have been clubbed together with sports channels besides Bhojpuri GEC and movie channels with a reserve price of Rs 10 crore.

All News & Current Affairs (Hindi), All News & Current Affairs (English) Channels and News& Current Affairs (Punjabi) Channels are under the Bucket C which has a reserve price of Rs 7 crore. The Bucket D with a reserve price of Rs 6 crore comprises of all other remaining genres/language channels.

The new guidelines have been challenged by the music broadcasters in Delhi High Court.