Delhi HC notice to Govt on petition seeking cancellation of Ad cap violating pay channels licenses

NEW DELHI: Even as the Ad cap case is pending before it, the Delhi High Court has issued notice to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on a fresh petition which has charged the ministry with dereliction of its duties to take action against offending Pay TV broadcasters for violating the terms and conditions of the licenses/permission for uplinking and downlinking permission/license.

Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath asked the ministry to file its reply in four weeks.

Notice was issued only to the ministry, although the petition also listed 21st Century Fox Inc., Star India Private Limited, Discovery Communications Inc., and Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific (South Asia) as respondents.

Although the petition initially came up before a single bench on 19 May, it was directed to be posted before the court of the Chief Justice who is already hearing the other acap case filed by the News Broadcasters Association and others, and was heard on 27 May.

The petitioners Vikki Choudhry and Home Cable Network Pvt Ltd. have urged the court to issue directions for cancellation of the licences of Star India and Discovery Networks Asia Pacific as they are alleged to be in violation of the license conditions agreed by them under clause 5.2 of the uplinking guidelines and clause 5.1 of the downlinking guidelines, apart from the undertaking in the form of affidavit for the Up-linking and Down-linking Guidelines, and also in violation of the provisions of section 8 of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. It is alleged that these two have deliberately violated the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and rules thereunder.

The Court has also been urged to issue writ, order or direction to the two groups to deposit the revenue earned from the advertisement during the last three financial years (FY 2015-16, 2014-15, 2013-14) with the Consumer Welfare Fund of the Central Government constituted under the Excise Act, 1944

Directions have also been sought for the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre of the I & B Ministry to monitor all the Pay TV channels broadcast in India and report the violations of the prescribed Advertising Code under the rule 7 (10) and 7(11) of the CTN Rules, 1994 and the CTNR Act, 1995 on monthly/weekly basis.

The petition has alleged that the Pay TV broadcasters are in continuous violation of the terms of license under the uplinking and downlinking guidelines, and have in their weekly report admitted the same. It said “all the respondent channels are being parties as matter of illustration and ease of pleadings because the rule of minutage of advertisement 12 minutes per clock hour is in existence in several countries and these channels are strictly complying with such directives in other countries whereas they are in continued violations in India”.

It was pointed out that Star India is a 100 percent subsidiary of 21st Century Fox Inc. and Discovery Networks Asia Pacific is 100 percent subsidiary of Discovery Communications Inc.
It said the pay TV broadcasters are indulging into profiteering at the expense of poor ordinary consumers in blatant violation of important tariff structure contained in the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines and permissions granted by the Ministry.

The petitioner said it had given detailed representations to the ministry several times without getting any reply. The petitioner had written to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in this connection but received a reply that the matter pertained to the ministry.

It has been pointed out that the Indian Broadcasting Foundation had withdrawn its petitions before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal against the Standards of Quality of Service (duration of advertisements in television channels) Regulations 2012 and assured the Tribunal that its members would comply with the law.

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