Internet too guilty of carrying illegal channels

New Delhi: A parliamentary committee has expressed surprise at the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry‘s failure to check the sources that carry non-permitted television channels other than the cable operators.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has said it cannot understand the reason behind the I&B Ministry‘s assertion that the cable operators were to be blamed for the carriage of illegal television channels.

The Parliamentary committee has said that a document prepared by the I&B Ministry had stated, while explaining how illegal channels reach subscribers‘ homes through cable networks, that the source can be broadband, internet, IPTV, mobile TV, video streaming, etc.

During its examination of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) (Second Amendment) Bill aimed at curbing telecast of illegal channels, the committee noted that even the Prime Minister‘s Office had asked the ministry to check carriage of non-permitted channels on the internet.

In the views furnished by the PMO to the ministry at the consultation stage, it was specifically mentioned that the problem of availability of non-permitted TV channels for viewing over the internet needs to be taken cognisance of and that the Ministry can take further action.

The committee, therefore, expressed surprise that the ministry has tried to ignore the important concern expressed by the PMO.

Instead of examining the issue, the Ministry has stated that the internet is, by and large, unregulated, except for certain restrictions under the Information Technology Act. The committee failed to understand how the issue of transmitting illegal/unregistered channels can be addressed in entirety without regulating a key source - the internet.

The committee during the course of deliberations tried to analyse the specific reasons for bringing the proposed amendments in the Cable Act that would be applicable to only cable operators in the context of showing illegal/unregistered channels.

The ministry justified the proposed amendments on the pretext that the DTH and IPTV services providers do not indulge in carriage of illegal channel as the channels carried on DTH service and IPTV service can be centrally monitored as these are addressable and leave a digital trail.

The other basis for the assertion of the ministry that DTH and IPTV service providers do not indulge in carriage of illegal channels is stringent licensing conditions for DTH and IPTV.

When the issue of licensing of cable operators to bring all the service providers on the level playing field was raised, the main constraint as expressed by the ministry in licensing cable operators was the infrastructure needed to provide licence to 60,000 cable operators.

The committee felt that the ministry needs to keep a constant watch on the new and emerging technologies and the international legislative framework in this regard to address the multiple challenges coming in the way.

Moreover, to provide the level playing field to various service providers, the extant legislation guidelines need a constant review in the light of the technological changes so as to avoid legal complications in managing the issue of illegal transmission.

The committee‘s attention was drawn during the course of examination to inequitable treatment to various service providers, viz. cable operators, DTH, IPTV, internet in the context of the amending provisions made in the proposed legislation. The cable associations were of the view that unregistered channels are carried through platforms other than cable like DTH, IPTV, mobile TV, video streaming, internet whereas the legislation has been brought only for the cable operators.

The committee during the course of deliberations with the cable industry stakeholders were given the impression that the cable operators are being over burdened with penalty, punishment and with so many regulations that small cable operators are unable to protect themselves.

The broadcaster associations on the other hand had given the impression to the committee that in their case stringent license conditions are applicable whereas in the case of a cable operator the requirement is only of registration.

The committee noted that the extant legislative framework/guidelines with regard to regulating unregistered/illegal channels has the commonality through the Cable Act and rules there-under, which prescribe the Programme Code and Advertisement Code. The common legislative framework is applicable to all the platforms as acknowledged by the ministry.

According to the FICCI- KPMG Indian Media Entertainment Industry Report 2012, the percentage of cable‘s share in last mile connectivity, which is 62 per cent at present, may come down to 47.3 per cent by the year 2015. During this period the DTH percentage may increase from 31 per cent to 46.7 per cent.

The committee observed that considering the emerging technologies, the scenario of TV watching may change drastically. With a multiple transformation taking place all over the world in the technologies available in the media and entertainment sector, the whole scenario of watching TV may change in future.

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