Mumbai cable TV shut as operators protest police clampdown

MUMBAI: Cable operators across India's entertainment capital Mumbai blacked out all channels on their networks on 21 August late evening. The reason: they were protesting against the move by the authorities to stop them from transmitting English and Hindi movie channels to their viewers.

Earlier in the day, the Mumbai police had swooped down on cable TV control rooms and sealed decoder boxes of nine channels for showing adult content. Among these were Hindi and English movie channels (Zee Cinema, Star Movies, HBO, Filmy, Star Gold, AXN and Max), and Hindi entertainment channels Star One and Sahara One.

At the time of writing, unconfirmed reports were that other cities across the western Indian state of Maharashtra had also been affected with cable TV services partially or completely shut down. For instance a major cable operator in Pune revealed that decoders of the above nine channels and also those of MTV and Channel V had been sealed.

Additionally, certain cable TV networks had started scrolling that the agitation had spread through the rest of Maharashtra with services being shut down every where.

"Police have sealed the decoder boxes of nine channels. We had to sign a bond that we wouldn't be telecasting these channels till the High Court ruling," says a senior executive of a leading multi system operator (MSO).

The Bombay High Court had last week pulled up the Maharashtra police chief for not acting against cable operators who were violating its earlier order banning adult movies on TV. In December 2005, the High Court had ordered the police to take action against cable operators and cable service providers who beamed movies with 'A' or 'U/A' certificates. This was in response to a public interest litigation filed by social activist Pratibha Nathani.

In Mumbai, cable operators have blacked out their service. "There was too much confusion and we didn't receive a definite list of which channels to block. Movie channels like Pix and Zee Studio, for instance, are spared. It is only late in the day that the police has come to our control rooms and sealed the decoders of nine channels. To avoid all this chaos, the three control rooms of Siticable in Mumbai have switched off their service," says Ravi Singh, a distributor of Siticable.

Adds a cable operator, "They should have told us early in the day which channels we are not to telecast. There would have been no need for the police to visit all the control rooms in Mumbai as we would have blocked these channels. We are not broadcasters and we can't be expected to act as the censors of content."

The Bombay High court had on 16 August directed Director General of Police Dr P S Pasricha to file an additional affidavit within a week to explain whether any action has been taken against erring cable operators.

MSOs are deciding what course of action they should take. "We may move the court," says Wire and Wireless India Ltd. (WWIL) CEO Jagjit Kohli.

When contacted, a Star India spokesperson did not wish to comment on the issue.

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