'Advance digitisation deadline in border areas'

NEW DELHI: A Parliamentary committee has ‘strongly‘ emphasised to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry that the digitisation deadline in the border areas should be advanced by taking proactive initiatives by the Government to check illegal television channels.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology to which the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Second Amendment Bill has been referred to, has pointed out that the ministry too has asserted that digitisation can provide a mechanism to regulate/monitor the problem of illegal channels being carried by cable operators.

It noted that the Ministry had stated that cable operators in the border areas can take the feed of the terrestrial channels of neighbouring countries which are not allowed to be shown in India. It is also possible that cable operator can pick illegal channels via broadband/internet or IPTV, mobile TV, video streaming and re-transmitting them.

The committee said from the information furnished by the Ministry, the initial order for constitution of State and District Level Monitoring Committees was issued on 6 September 2005 and detailed guidelines were issued on 19 February 2008. But it was ‘constrained‘ to note that only 15 States and 266 Districts have so far been able to set up these committees.
With regard to the State-wise position of status of these Committees, the Committee noted that in North Eastern States, Arunachal Pradesh is the only State which has set up the State Level Committee.

The Committee was also "constrained to note that the Ministry does not maintain centralized data about the functioning of these Committees". The Committee felt that various issues confronting implementation of the provisions made in the Cable Act can be addressed by ensuring effective functioning of State and District Level Monitoring Committees. The Ministry should persuade the State Governments particularly the bordering States to set up these Committees expeditiously. Besides, the position of setting up of these Committees as well as their functioning should be constantly monitored by the Ministry.

The Bill introduced in Parliament in December last year seeks to insert a new clause via Section 5A in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 that prohibits cable operators from carrying unregistered satellite or terrestrial channels on their cable service networks irrespective of manner of reception of these channels.

The Bill also proposes to amend sub-section(1) of section 11 to empower the Authorized Officers to seize the equipments of the Cable operators if it is found that cable operators indulge in re-transmission of illegal channels, that is, violation of section 5A. Financial penalties provided under section 16 (1) of the Cable Act for violation of the provisions of the Act are proposed to be enhanced from Rs 1000 to Rs 100,000 for the first offence and Rs 5000 to Rs 300,000 on each subsequent offence.

The amending legislation further provides that in case of violation of section 5A, fine imposed for the first offence shall not be less than Rs 50,000 and for every subsequent offence it shall not be less than
Rs 100,000. The Bill also proposes to amend section 16(2) to make contravention of section 5A a cognisable offence.

With the enactment of the proposed amendments, a cable operator would be allowed to carry only those channels which are indicated at Clause (a)(b)(c) of sub-Section (1) of section 5A as elaborated below:-
"5A. (1) No cable operator shall carry or include in his cable service any satellite or terrestrial television broadcast or channel unless such broadcast or channel has been:

(a) registered with, or permitted by, the Central Government for being viewed within the territory of India, in accordance with the policy guidelines for downlinking of television channels as may be specified by the Central Government from time to time; or

(b) approved by the Central Government for being viewed within the territory of India; or

(c) allowed in accordance with the provisions of any Central Act or rules made thereunder for being viewed within the territory of India.

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