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Govt reportedly wants Trai to go easy on CAS till after polls

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NEW DELHI: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chief Pradip Baijal's meeting with India's information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the last two days has sparked off speculations on two issues --- the regulator's probable report on conditional access system (CAS) and cricket telecast rights.



Baijal's meeting with Prasad, soon after the former's recent trip abroad to study regulatory framework, was termed a "routine official visit" by government officials. However, when prodded, the sources admitted that some discussions on CAS was held, but refused to give out details.



Information emanating from Trai, the regulator for the broadcasting and cable industry, indicates that a report on CAS and its status may be readied rather sooner than later.



What can upset government plans is if Trai comes out with recommendations favouring rollout of CAS in the designated areas of the metros --- coinciding with a Delhi high court hearing on addressability on 5 April. This could mean opening a Pandora's box too close to the general elections.



Though neither government nor Trai officials are ready to confirm it, information doing the rounds of the I&B ministry is that the Centre may have dropped hints to the regulator to go easy on a report on CAS and not come out with it before the elections.



Despite repeated attempts made by indiantelevision.com today, Prasad and Baijal could not be contacted for comments.



Another issue that Baijal and Prasad could have discussed is the feasibility and validity of bringing in some sort of regulation to aid India's national broadcaster, Doordarshan, which stands to lose in terms of revenue now that the government has cleared the Indian cricket team's tour of Pakistan as per the original schedule in March. DD does not have the telecast rights.



Though bringing in such legislation at this juncture, which need not necessarily require Parliament's sanction, can whip up a controversy as the Dubai-based Ten Sports has continued to resist the pressure tactics of Doordarshan to share the telecast rights of the Indo-Pak cricket series.



While admitting that a law mandating the national broadcaster also be given the telecast rights of any event of national importance could be ushered in by Trai, a senior I&B ministry official, however, pointed out that "reining in Ten Sports would be difficult."



"There is an option of directing the cable operators to black out Ten Sports altogether, if it doesn't play ball with DD in the wake of some newly-introduced law regarding telecast rights, but it could also open up DD, the regulator and, maybe, the government too, to legal action, which is something the government would not like to get into in the run-up to the elections as it would also result in alienation of the general populace in this cricket crazy nation," the official explained.



This virtually slams the door shut on DD, which, despite being "still optimistic," would have to make do with daily highlight packages from Ten Sports.



Maybe, some revenues could be made up through some aggressive marketing and selling of airtime on All India Radio, which has managed to bag the broadcast rights for the Indo-Pak cricket series from Ten Sports for $ 40,000.

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