Contradictions in Cable Bill to ban illegal channels: Parliamentary Committee

NEW DELHI: A Parliamentary Committee has strongly recommended that various inconsistencies and infirmities in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) (Second Amendment) aimed at checking telecast of illegal channels should be given due attention before the legislation is presented to Parliament.

The Committee also said issues relating to enforcement of the provisions made in the Cable Act should be given due attention in consultation with the Law and Justice Ministry and other concerned Departments/Agencies before the amending Bill is taken up for consideration by the Parliament.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology which covers Information and Broadcasting in its ambit found it very interesting that while the Bill was to prohibit transmission or retransmission of illegal and unregistered channels, the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill referred to only ‘prohibition of re-transmission of unregistered channels’.

The Ministry was not satisfied with the explanation of the then I&B Secretary that the legislation covers both transmission and re-transmission ‘and there may be some editorial corrections which are possible to make’. The representative of the Law and Justice (Legislative Department) during the course of deliberations acknowledged that little addition in the marginal heading may save a lot of litigation.

The report also said while the Statement of Objects and Reasons talks about Uplinking and Downlinking, the proposed section 5A(a) mentions only downlinking of television channels. The representative of Law and Justice (Legislative Department) during the course of oral evidence clarified that there would be same interpretation.

The extracts from the Statement of Objects and Reasons in this regard says ‘several complaints have been received by the Central Government against cable operators showing illegal channels which have neither been permitted to uplink from India nor permitted or registered to downlink into India, as per the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines’.

The Committee said ‘although it may be a matter of technical interpretation, referring to both uplinking and downlinking in the Statements of Objects and Reasons whereby the Bill states only about downlinking has created confusion.’

The Committee said it failed to understand how the amending legislation would address the issue and act as a deterrent when it had not been possible to take action against the cable operator although sufficient provisions exist in the Cable Act for not adhering to the provisions made under the Cable Act which include adherence to Programme Code.

Referring to 25 illegal channels that the Ministry had referred to, the Committee said no action could be taken pursuant to Intelligence Bureau feedback about these channels which were found to be not conducive to the security environment of the country and posed a potential security hazard, although sufficient provisions are there under the extant Cable Act and Rules thereunder to take action in this regard.

The Ministry could not categorically respond as to how and by whom the content being ‘anti-national’ is decided. The Ministry also could not respond categorically when asked about the parameters on which Intelligence Bureau decided that the contents shown by channels are not conducive to the security environment of the country and pose a potential security hazard. The Ministry further opined that the purpose of the amending legislation was to actually create a deterrent kind of act.

The Committee said it was unable to understand how the proposed provisions would act as a deterrent without being able to enforce the provisions. In this connection, the Committee endorsed the views expressed by the then Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that the Authorized Officers have to do, what they are expected to do under the law and unless that is done the cable operator would never learn what he is not supposed to do.

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