Television

Swaraj makes strong defence of CAS

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NEW DELHI: In what is a strong defence of the conditional access system (CAS) Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj today likened CAS to a multi-cuisine thali: you get what you order for and pay for what you consume. She also sounded confident about getting the CAS issue passed in parliament during this session itself.

"At a time when the consumer is crying for help from the government because of the ever increasing monthly subscription of cable, the government cannot sit back and express its helplessness," Swaraj told journalists today after a meeting with cable operators, adding, "What we are doing is minimal intervention in the interest of every stakeholder in the cable and broadcasting industry, including the consumer." 

Swaraj also said that some politicians (like Congress Member of Parliament Kapil Sibal) are "spreading misconceptions about CAS which is unnecessary."

"I am hopeful and confident that the amendments to the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act, 1995 will be passed during this session of Parliament," she said to a query from indiantelevision.com, adding that talks with non-NDA party representatives will be held tomorrow on CAS.

"The Bill has not been withdrawn from RS, but only delisted to evolve a consensus on the issue amongst all political parties," she said.

She has conveyed to the cable operators, in the meanwhile, that "pressure tactics" by blacking out TV channels would not work and Parliament cannot be set deadlines to discuss issues. "Such moves are against the dignity of Parliament," the minister said. 

The non-NDA party representatives whom Swaraj is meeting tomorrow to evolve a consensus on the CAS issue include Congress' Sibal, Nilotpaul Basu of the CPM, Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh and Prem Gupta. 

"The amendments to the CATV Act were passed in Lok Sabha (the Lower House of the Indian Parliament) with unanimity and our endeavour is to do the same in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) too," Swaraj said. 

But she admitted that within the CPM (which had been opposing CAS in RS) too there were divisions on CAS. Over the past few days she has held talks with people from other political parties too like RJD, TDP and Biju Janata Dal. 

Swaraj stressed on the point that the government is not resorting to "censorship" through CAS and that those who are harping on this fact are "spreading misconceptions." 

"The government is not deciding on which channels subscribers should see or not see. All that we are trying to ensure is that consumers are not fleeced by ever-rising cable subscription fees and that even in the free-to-air bouquet there is a good mix of channels from all genres," the minister said to a question on indirect censorship. 

She likened the latest initiatives to a thali where a consumer can have paneer (cottage cheese) and meat too if he can afford it (that means the pay channels) or can go in a for a simple one course meal of FTA channels for a nominal fee.

She also said that with CAS gaining currency in the country the prices of set top boxes (STBs) are likely to fall drastically. 

"I have been given to understand that even if 20 per cent of the total existing cable homes go in for CAS and have to buy STBs, then the volume of business will have a STB being priced between Rs. 1,700-2,000 (a far cry from the Rs. 4,000 for which a STB can be had now)," she said. 

She also felt that with the passage of time various business models would evolve for supply of STBs. According to her there may be some subscribers who may buy a STB outright, then there may be some who pay a nominal rent per month for a STB installed by the cable operator and there can be a situation where the broadcasters having pay channels will supply STBs to subscribers almost free so that their pay channels can be seen and accessed. 

Though Swaraj could not find time to meet James Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Star Group Ltd, she did mention that Murdoch had told a bureaucrat that Star was not against CAS. 

Murdoch, met the information and broadcasting secretary Pawan Chopra earlier in the day as also Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma. 

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