Television

News uplink guidelines issued; Star looks to have got a breather

NEW DELHI: Transitory arrangements in the guidelines for television news channels desirous of uplinking from India may well have given some breathing space to Star.

Indications are that the Rupert Murdoch company can now hitch up with an Indian content provider that has an uplink licence, or go through Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. for a period of 90 days after which it has to fall in line with the new uplink guidelines that are causing much heartburn and confusion in the industry as well in the government.

Elaborating on the the fine print in the guidelines, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told journalists here, "To ensure a smooth rollout of the new uplinking policy, it has been decided to give existing content providers and channels, uplinking from India, a period of three months to get their house in order."

The guidelines on transitory arrangements read: "Content providers/channels who are currently using VSAT/RTTS/Satellite Video Phone and similar other infrastructure, which lends itself for use for uplinking/point-to-point transfer of content for broadcast purposes, will be allowed a maximum period of three months to come within the framework of these guidelines." 

While the likes of CNBC India, a 49:51 joint venture between TV-18 Ltd and CNBC Asia, may have to get its house in order within 90 days, a Zee Telefilms, managing Zee News, will get a year's time to go in for equity restrucuturing. A senior executive of Zee News said, "As and when the guidelines come and are studied thoroughly, the restrucuturing process would begin."

When asked if an Indian content provider can continue to supply content to a foreign news channel that is not registered in India and continue uplinking from India, Prasad on the sidelines said, "Software houses cannot uplink from India beyond 90 days (unless they and the channel adhere to the foreign equity limits)."

Prasad, however, refused to go into the specifics or case specific with questions that were related to Star, TV Today Network, CNBC India and NDTV.

However, Prasad did say that the world over media guidelines are "very restrictive" and quoted the example of Australia where only 20 per cent foreign equity is allowed and the US where 25 per cent foreign equity is allowed in television ventures.

Confusion prevails:

But the over one hour interaction that Prasad and the bureaucrats from the ministry had with journalists from the print and electronic medium during the press conference and also on the sidelines over an elaborate lunch laid out still failed to clear all doubts.

Take CNBC India's case for example. The 49:51 joint venture between TV-18 mauritius and CNBC Asia, is still groping in the dark as to where it stands - whether it would have get its house in order within 90 days or has 365 days to restrucuture itself as mentioned while the policy was announced last week.

CNBC India is an existing channel that uplinks from India, while the uplink permission has been given to the India-based Television Eighteen Ltd. Expressing inability to say something definite on the issue, a senior exec of TV-18 told indiantelevision.com, "I think we still need some clarification on the issue from the ministry whether we have to restructure within 90 days or like Zee have a year's time."

Even in star's case there was some confusion that whether it has got a repreive or not. After few hours of cross questioning and clarifications sought from the ministry, it has emerged that the murdoch company has been given some breather.

An elated, and probably somewhat relieved, Ravina Raj Kohli, president Star News, issued a press statement that said: "We welcome the guidelines and will comply with them. Star News will undergo a seamless transition to a 24-hours Hindi news service from 31 March onwards, when the contract with our current supplier comes to an end."

However, Kohli did not spell out who would the future content providers be after Star's contract with NDTV comes to an end on 31 march. But company sources did tell indiantelevision that the content provider(s) are likely to be in place before the deadline, which indicates that the possibility of a revamped Star News, with Star having full editorial control too, would be on air from 1 April.

Who would be the likely content providers? Keep guessing. It's unlikely to be UTV as reported in a section of the media. Ronnie Screwvala of UTV told indiantelevision.com yesterday that no talks have been held with Star in this regard and neither does the company possess an uplink licence.

Somebody who is sitting pretty is the Subhash Chandra-promoted Zee Telefilms, managing Zee News. It's sure of getting a year's time to go in for equity restructuring. A senior executive of Zee News said, "as and when the guidelines come and are studied thoroughly, the restructuring process would begin."

In a related development, indiantelevision.com also learns that the permission for uplink to the likes of TV Today Network and NDTV World is expected to come through any moment. "TV Today Network might get the permission by today evening itself," a senior government official said.

Following is the text of the detailed guidelines:

PREAMBLE

The Union Government has revised the policy for uplinking of TV channels from India, insofar it relates to the news and current affairs channels. Accordingly, the guidelines for permission/approval for uplinking of news and current affairs TV channels from India, have been framed for immediate compliance.

Channels which do not have any news and current affairs content will, however, continue to be eligible to uplink from India, irrespective of ownership, equity structure or management control.

The use of all equipment/platforms for collection of footage/news by channels uplinked from outside for specific programme(s) / event(s) of temporary duration will be entertained on recommendation from the PIB and permitted on a case to case basis, in consultation with the ministry of home affairs and other ministries / departments concerned. 

I. APPLICABILITY

· These guidelines will apply to existing news and current affairs TV channels uplinked from India as well as to those proposing to uplink from India.

· For the purposes of these guidelines 

(i) news & current affairs channel means a channel which has any element of news and current affairs in its programme content; and 

(ii) an existing channel means any channel which has been permitted by the ministry of information & broadcasting to uplink from India. Existing channels will be required to conform to these guidelines within a period of one year from the date of issue of these guidelines. 

II. ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

An applicant company desirous of uplinking news and current affairs TV channel(s) from India will be considered eligible, if it fulfils the following criteria:- 

It is registered/incorporated in India under the Companies Act, 1956, 

· Foreign equity holding in the applicant company does not exceed 26 per cent of the total paid up capital, 

· Majority of its board of directors are resident Indians,

· CEO of the applicant company, known by any designation, and/or head of the channel is a resident Indian, 

· News editor(s) or authority(ies) exercising editorial control over news and current affairs programme (s) of the channel(s) are resident Indians. 

III. PERIOD OF APPROVAL/PERMISSION

Ten years.

IV. BASIC CONDITIONS/OBLIGATIONS

· Permission for usage of facilities/infrastructure for live news/footage collection and transmission, irrespective of the technology used, will be given to only those channels which are uplinked from India. To ensure compliance of this policy in respect of permissions/licences given/to be given for utilization of VSAT/RTTS/Satellite Vide Phone and similar other infrastructure, which lends itself for use in uplinking/point to point transfer of content for broadcast purposes, separate guidelines will be issued by the ministry of communications & information technology.

· The channel/company will ensure that its news and current affairs content provider(s), if any, are accredited with the Press Information Bureau. Such accredited content provider(s) only can use equipment/platform for collection/transmission of news/footage.

· The company/channel should ensure that it uses equipment which is duly authorised and permitted by the competent authority, or its content provider(s), if any, use equipment duly authorised by the competent authority,

· It will be obligatory on the part of the company to take prior permission from the ministry of information & broadcasting, before effecting any alteration in the foreign share holding pattern and/or in the CEO/board of directors.

· The company/channel will be liable to intimate to the ministry of information & broadcasting the details of any foreigners/NRIs employed/engaged by it for a period exceeding 60(sixty) days,

· The company/channel shall undertake to comply with the programme & advertising codes, as laid down in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the Rules framed thereunder,

· It shall keep record of the content uplinked for a period of 90 days and produce the same before any agency of the government, as and when required,

· It shall furnish such information, as may be required by the ministry of information & broadcasting, from time to time,

· The company/channel shall provide for the necessary monitoring facility, at its own cost, for monitoring of programmes or content by the representatives of the ministry of information & broadcasting or any other government agency as and when so required,

· The applicant company should use transponder on a satellite in C-Band only and the same should have been co-ordinated with INSAT system.

· The applicant company/channel shall comply with all the terms and conditions of the permission/approval prescribed by the ministry of information & broadcasting and failure to comply with any of the terms and conditions will result in withdrawal of such permission/approval and suspension/cancellation of the wireless operating licence issued by the WPC.

V. PROCEDURE

· The applicant company shall apply to the Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in triplicate in the prescribed proforma (Form 2.1) along with affidavits in Form 2A and 2B and share holding pattern of the company.

· On receipt of the applications and the affidavit as mentioned above, if the applicant company is found eligible, its request will be sent for security clearance to the Ministry of Home Affairs and for clearance of usage of satellite to the Department of Space,

· On receipt of these clearances, the applicant company will be permitted by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to uplink its channel(s) through an authorised hub/teleport.

VI. TRANSITORY ARRANGEMENTS

· Content Providers/Channels who are currently using VSAT/RTTS/Satellite Video Phone and similar other infrastructure, which lends itself for use for uplinking/point-to-point transfer of content for broadcast purposes, will be allowed a maximum period of three months to come within the framework of these guidelines.

Also read:

News channel uplinking guidelines issued

COMMENT: News makers have to rework strategies

26% FDI cap in news channels 

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