Viewpoint: Is CAS amendment government's attempt to muzzle TV channels?

A new scare has emerged in the television industry about the possibility of the current government controlling and muzzling the media - more specifically television through the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Amendment 2002. The Amendment seeks to hand control of the free to air channel bouquet to the government, its pricing and its contents location wise.

According to one school of thought, the BJP-led NDA government has been reeling from a backlash from the media - more specifically channels such as Star News - which have criticised it for the manner in which it has dealt with Gujarat and the massacre of Muslims in the state. Earlier, it had also been hit by the defence related Tehelka scam and the bad media it got.

Says an observer: "It is quite likely that the government is pushing through CAS in the manner it is to serve its own agenda. Television channels are hurting its image. The government can - if a broadcaster goes against it order the cable TV operator not to carry a specific channel or carry it in an unfavourable frequency position so that very few individuals get to view it. "

The observer asks why can't the Indian government decide to take the same tack with the print media too. "Does the government decide the pricing of a newspaper or is it left to the publishing house," she asks. "And why are cable TV operators complaining about TV channels hassling them? Don't publishing houses change the pricing of their newspapers time to time? Don't they have packages for distributors? Does the government intervene when they force newspaper distributors to carry publications as part of a package at a specific price? Why should it do so for television?

"Cable ops are excited about their getting a chance to get back at channels (through CAS) who they believe have been armtwisting them with apparently uncalled for channel subscription package increases. Broadcasters on their part have been busy fighting or backing its entry. Consumers don't know any better.

"Most people are missing the possibility of the government muzzling the television channels," says the observer. "Maybe it may not, but there is always the possibility it may."

The ball is over to the Indian government to clarify its position on the issue.

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