IBF says no to TRAI legal challenge; sets up subcommittee

NEW DELHI: The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has dropped the idea of going head to head and legally challenging the newly appointed broadcasting regulator the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on its directive freezing cable TV rates. Instead it has decided to take a softer line - that of approaching it to "explain the ground realities of the industry."

A senior member of the IBF confirmed to today that a member had floated the idea of legally challenging the TRAI. But after reading the finer print of the TRAI Act, the path of confrontation was abandoned.

"Instead of going the legal way, we, as an industry, should work with the regulator and if there is some confusion, then we should seek clarifications in a civil manner," the IBF member stressed.

Towards this end, the IBF, at its board meeting today, decided to form a sub-committee to go into the issues raised by TRAI in its consultation paper and has also sought time from the regulator.

The sub-committee would be headed by Zee Telefilms vice-chairman Jawahar Goel and includes ESPN India head R C Venkateish, Ten Sports India MD Sharmista Rijhwani and Sahara TV president Mahesh Prasad.

According to a draft of a letter that is to be sent to TRAI, the IBF secretary-general has said that the Foundation "should be given a fair chance to present our views and explain the ground realities of the industry."

Referring to the 15 January, 2004, TRAI notification announcing a ceiling on charges payable by subscribers, MSOs and cable operators, the IBF has contended, "This order was issued without consultation with the broadcasting industry and, hence, this order has created utter confusion in the industry. Further, TRAI's notification included non-CAS areas which were free of these problems so far."

IBF sources said members did bring up valid points that point towards confusion. For example, would the TRAI order on price freeze mean that a free to air channel cannot convert into a pay service? Till the time, TRAI comes out with a final view on various issues, would the order also mean that no new pay channel can be launched?

Sometime back, the government, through a notification, had mandated TRAI as the regulator for the broadcast and cable services. It could do this on account of an amendment that had been carried out in the TRAI Act last year. Subsequently earlier this month, TRAI came out with an order freezing the cable TV rates as on 26 December and issued a consultation paper.

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