Television

Cabinet clears decks for must provide law

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NEW DELHI: The Union cabinet today approved the promulgation of an ordinance making it compulsory for private broadcasters to share the feed of sporting events of national importance (read cricket) with the public broadcaster.

The move comes in the wake of the refusal by India cricket rights holder Nimbus to share the live feed of recently held matches with national broadcaster Doordarshan.

Additionally, a Bill will be introduced in the coming Session of Parliament to replace the ordinance by an Act of Parliament.

"The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Ordinance, 2007 will make it obligatory on every content right owner and TV and Radio broadcasting service provider to share the live telecast signals without its advertisement, for such sporting events as may be prescribed by the Central Government, with the public service broadcasters on such terms and conditions as may be specified," a posting on the government's Press Information Bureau website says.

"This Ordinance would provide access to the largest number of listeners and viewers, on a free to air basis, of sporting events of national importance whether held in India or abroad," it adds.

At a briefing this evening, information and broadcasting minister PR Dasmunsi expressed the hope that the ordinance would be notified before the start of the coming India-Sri Lanka series on 8 February, newswire Press Trust of India has reported.

Nimbus, while welcoming the approval of the ordinance, has threatened to go to court if it would mean telecasting feed on DD's DTH platform, PTI adds.

An expert committee has been set up in the I&B ministry to look into the issue of encryption, an official told indiantelevision.com.

This will have to be sent to the law ministry and their approval procured so that it becomes water tight and face little legal and political challenge, in the court or in Parliament itself, from opposition benches, the official said.

The Downlinking Guidelines of the government will form the body of the ordinance, though the words will be framed in the form of a statute.

Sources said that the wording as such is ready and Dasmunsi, who had been incensed with Nimbus getting away with the live telecast of the current ODI series without sharing its live feed with DD, had been the trigger.

Dasmunsi, however, had to wait to place this with the cabinet and seek its formal announcement. This is what the cabinet today decided: that now there is no option but to go for the harsh measure of promulgating an ordinance.

The government's decision will ensure viewers in non-cable houses and radio listeners would receive live feed of Indian team's one-day matches, wherever it plays. However, for test matches, the government has said live feed would be required only for those matches played in India and highlights would do for the others.

As a sop to private broadcasters, Dasmunsi has said a technical committee would look into the matter of encrypting the signals being telecast by Doordarshan, which would ensure that the feed is not pirated by broadcasters outside India.

Earlier in the day, government officials present at the inauguration of the three-day Broadcast Engineering Society Expo 2007 in the capital had told indiantelevision.com that the ministry had come precariously close even earlier to issuing an ordinance ensuring live feed for cricket events in India involving the national team.

"I think it is because of the court case and ruling on seven minutes delay that the legal experts suggested we don't go against the ruling, but bring in the bill and settle the issue for once and all, but the anger in the ministry is huge," a senior official had revealed at the time, naturally asking not to be quoted.

Giving a not so subtle threat to "broadcasters for not falling in line", he suggested that this would mean that the minister and the officials may not make it easy for whoever has been hoping for a less 'draconian' broadcasting bill.

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