Television

Downlink law may give govt. more powers

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NEW DELHI: All channels beaming into India may soon have to open their profit and loss accounts and ownership patterns to the government or a regulatory body irrespective of the fact whether they are part of a private held company or a listed entity.



This, amongst others, is one of the major points in a draft note relating to a proposed law on downlinking, which has been prepared by the information and broadcasting ministry.



With the cricket telecast rights issue almost making a habit of landing in the court, the Indian government would make it mandatory for feeds of events of national importance to be given to pubcaster Doordarshan, according to the draft note.



The proposed law on downlinking --- much talked about, but not given as importance as uplinking in the past --- is aimed at bringing about a semblance of coherence in the almost unregulated broadcast and cable sector, along with some additional powers to the government to check whether new entrants, especially non-Indian, are serious about doing business in the country in a fair manner.



According to senior information and broadcasting ministry officials, the draft note on downlinking "borrows from regulations regarding this in the UK and the US."



The note on downlinking, for example, says that there is a need to register and licence all TV channels that are beaming into India, irrespective of the fact whether they are uplinked from India or outside India. It also harps on the fact that in some countries like the UK, there is an

elaborate procedure to be followed if a non-British TV channel wants to target the audience there, unlike in India where the easy availability of TV channels, especially free to air ones, have crossed 300.



Another feature of the draft policy, which is still undergoing changes as discussions within the ministry continue on the issue, is that every channel beaming into India, after registering with a designated authority must open an Indian office. This would facilitate the government / designated regulatory authority to communicate with the channel concerned easily in case of disputes.



Interestingly, Prasar Bharati's attempts to take Doordarshan channels to the UK have been part of a learning process for the Indian government, which

learnt how the British regulatory body goes about such things, including asking applicants for financial details.



On cue, the draft note on downlinking also states that any channel wishing to register itself for accessing the Indian cable TV market, would have to give details of profit & loss, antecedents of ownership(s), major source(s) of funding of various ventures and a broad business plan envisaged for India.



Of course, errant channels or those finding defaulting on any account would be penalised heavily and in extreme case re-transmission of such channels by cable operators would be made a cognisable offence.



Needless to state that as and when this law is put into force, certain amendments would have to be made in existing rules like the Cable TV (Network) Regulation Act, 1995 and the DTH guidelines to accommodate a `must

provide' clause, which is mainly aimed at benefiting DD.

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