No easing of DTH norms, asserts Swaraj

NEW DELHI: For those broadcasters and media companies who were thinking that the Indian government would relax and / or review the DTH policy guidelines, there appears to be little hope.

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj today said that the ministry has "rejected" the recommendations of the NK Singh panel report on ways to attract FDI in various sectors, including direct-to-home (DTH) TV broadcasting in India.

While the minister was firm on DTH, she said that over the next 12 months the ministry's agenda will be, amongst other things, to allow universities, IITs, IIMs and residential schools to have their own radio stations in a revolutionary move.

"We have written to them (the NK Singh panel on FDI) that their recommendations on raising the limit of FDI to 49 per cent cannot be accepted as there is already a provision to have 49 per cent foreign equity, including NRIs/OCBs, etc, in the existing DTH policy," Swaraj said in response to a question put forward by indiantelevison.com during a meeting that the minister had with journalists to highlight the achievements of the I&B ministry on the occasion of the NDA government completing three years of governance on 13 October.

Pointing out that the ministry has outright rejected the suggestion of the Singh panel, Swaraj added, "I think their understanding of the DTH policy is not correct. If we go by the recommendation then the government probably would have to allow upto 70 per cent foreign equity in a DTH venture. This is not acceptable to us."

The minister said that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT and Telecommunications has been informed of this decision taken by the ministry on DTH and that, "the government does not plan to make any changes in the policy at this moment."

She also prudently flaunted the name of two companies which have sought permission for starting a DTH venture in India after over 18 months of the policy guidelines been announced.

"I have always maintained that media companies too, will take time to firm their business plans regarding DTH. Two companies, Space TV and ASC Enterprises, have applied for licence and their applications are being processed," she said.

Dwelling on the various achievements of the I&B ministry, a bullish Swaraj said that announcement of a liberalised uplinking policy by the government earlier is "one of the most revolutionary" decisions taken. (See earlier report: Prasar Bharati lists achievements of last three years) "The media explosion and growth that you see today in India is due to the uplinking policy which aims at making India the hub for uplinking on lines of Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. As of today 77 channels have been given permission to uplink from India from a measely number that used to do so when we (the NDA government) took over," Swaraj said.

On the FM radio front, a sector where private players are now realizing revenues just trickle in, Swaraj said that out of the 37 bids which had finally come, while 10 have started operations, the rest have paid up their licence fee to start operation as soon as possible.

"So the criticism that the government stands to lose revenue because of the delays in the FM radio sector does not hold good," the minister said.

She expressed the hope that the amendment to the Cable TV regulation Act, 1995, seeking to implement the conditional access system, will be passed in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Indian parliament) in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament.

Quizzed on the differences on the issues amongst political parties in the Rajya Sabha, Swaraj said, "Let us say there is a consensus on CAS and we are hopeful that it will be passed by Rajya Sabha too." The Lower House has already okayed the amendments.

Speaking on the narrowcasting project being undertaken by Doordarshan, Swaraj said that nine pilot projects are likely to be started soon in places like Bellary, Coimbatore, Chennai,. Hissar, Akola and Thiruvananthapuram where DD's low and high powered transmitters will be used to air programmes for the immediate surrounding which will be of local interest like agriculture.

"We are starting off with agriculture, but later other programmes like those on sports too can be aired as part of narrowcasting. For this DD has tied up with universities and organsiations for sourcing content," Swaraj said.

Swaraj also dwelt on the industry status given to the film industry - "a decision taken within 30 days of her arrival in the I&B ministry" - and said that the decision was taken so that "good money could be made available for good cinema." According to her, IDBI has said that the recovery rate of money from the film industry is better than other areas.

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