PIL filed in Delhi HC seeks probe into porn on DTH

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court today heard a public interest litigation seeking that direct-to-home (DTH) services available in the country be probed --- in the absence of any regulatory framework --- over what was termed easy availability and accessability of channels with pornographic content on DTH platforms and the implications of such a service on national security.

The petitioner, noted media expert Dr N Bhaskara Rao, however, submitted before the court that DTH should not be viewed in isolation, but as part of a national media policy on broadcasting.

On hearing the case today, the Chief Justice of the Delhi HC gave the government four weeks time to respond to the petition. Apart from the government of India (as the responsible authority for framing policies and issuing licences), the country's first DTH service, Dish TV, has also been made a party to the case. Two Subhash Chandra companies, ASC Enterprises Ltd and Zee Telefilms promote Dish TV.

Interestingly, Rao, who also heads the Delhi-based media watchdog Centre for Media Studies (CMS), filed the PIL in his individual capacity.

In his petition Rao has submitted the following:

* The need for a national media policy, particularly with regard to broadcasting 

* The need for an independent regulator for broadcasting, going by the spirit of the 1995 Supreme Court judgment (that said that airwaves are public property)

* Setting up of a committee of experts, including those from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), to look into ways of containing pornographic channels/programmes with (KU-band) DTH coming into the country as also its implications on national security

Outcome notwithstanding, the case is likely to have a bearing on any prospective entrant into the DTH arena, which includes the Tata-Star combine with Space TV and Indian pubcaster Doordarshan.

When contacted, Zee Telefilms refused comment on the issue, saying the matter was sub-judice. On the other hand, a spokesperson for Star India, the Indian arm of Rupert Murdoch's pan-Asian venture Star Group, said, "We are still studying the case as we are not a direct party to it." Prasar Bharati, which manages DD and All India Radio, also refused to make any comments on the PIL.

The Tata-Star combine is still awaiting a nod from information and broadcasting ministry for its Rs 1.6 billion proposed DTH venture, while DD is slated to formally launch its DTH service sometime later this month for which subscription charges would not be charged from customers.

DD's DTH platform, named DD Direct, is still hunting around for popular entertainment channels that are pre-dominantly in the private sector. Except Star Utsav, no other Hindi entertainment channel has agreed to come on board, including the free to air ones like Sahara Manoranjan and Sab TV. But some popular channels from the Sun TV group would be on DD Direct.

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