Somaiya files PIL; Congress shoots of letter to governor

MUMBAI: BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, along with MLAs Mangal Prabhat Lodha and Atul Sharma, finally filed a public interest litigation on the issue of hike in cable subsription rates in the High Court this afternoon. 26 respondents have been named in the petition.

The PIL demands a stay on the cable rate hike and an immediate halt to the alleged exploitation of hapless consumers by cable operators. The PIL has also asked for restoration of cable connections that were cut when consumers, adhering to Somaiya's earlier appeal, insisted on paying cable ops a maximum monthly fee of Rs 150 and demanded a receipt. BJP party officials claim that "vengeful" cable ops cut off cable connections to the homes which did not adhere to the subscription rate hike.

The PIL alleges that pay channels have been needlessly bringing increasing pressure on the paying consumers. It states that while 40 per cent of Mumbai households possess black and white television sets (which show a maximum of eight channels), a mere two per cent of households have TV sets which show more than 10 channels. 

The PIL has asked for transparency in the operations of broadcasters by asking that they regularly declare their varied sources of revenues.

Meanwhile, averse to missing out on a plum opportunity to send the "correct message" to the voter, the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) has also joined the, has appealed to the Maharashtra governor, asking that 'foreign pay channels be prohibited from increasing rates till the "Set Top Box Bill" (actually means the CAS Bill) comes into effect.' (Click here for a full draft of the MPCC memorandum)

The MPCC however has been more comprehensive in its criticism of pay channels, maintaining that they be stopped from airing 'obscene programmes' and that they be made free channels "since they earn hundreds of crores through advertisements." The MPCC has also demanded a subsidy on the cost of the set top box, that becomes mandatory once CAS is implemented.

Meanwhile, television screens in Mumbai and Thane blanked out pay channels throughout the day, as the Maharashtra Cable Consumers' Action Committee called for a 24 hour blackout to protest multi-national broadcasting companies' sudden hike in cable television rates.

The blackout has hit Sony the worst of all as SET is scheduled to air live the 48th Filmfare Awards at 9 pm tonight. The MCCAC's blackout is supposed to hold out till midnight.

The move by the operators is also meant to reinforce the message that if they are unwilling to pay more than Rs 150 in monthly subscriptions, then they better get used to watching TV without any pay channels.

In a way, the action might well prove a good thing for the pay channels ahead of CAS. The public will have a clear feel of "just what they will be missing" should they opt for the basic free to air tier once CAS comes into play.

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