Regulators

TRAI jurisdiction: Madras HC yes to MSOs as interveners, no as impleaders

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NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The Madras High Court yesterday gave concession to the MSOs allowing them to intervene on matters of law under consideration. But, the court refused to let them implead, via AIDCF, in a case filed by broadcasters (content generators) challenging whether regulator TRAI can have jurisdiction over commercial issues relating to copyright of content.

Both sides -- petitioners Star TV and Vijay TV and All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) -- viewed the court stand as a moral victory.

Star TV and Vijay TV had moved the Madras High Court pleading that Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), India’s broadcast carriage and telecoms regulator, didn’t have jurisdiction to issue guidelines that had a bearing on tariff of content, both TV and film, especially if such issues were also governed under the copyright law.

In an official statement, AIDCF said the court was “pleased to permit AIDCF to participate in the proceedings as (an) intervener” allowing it to “file all relevant material, make oral submissions and file written submissions in the main writ petition.”

The AIDCF statement, quoting organisation president and Hathway video division CEO TS Panesar, said, “We are delighted to note the decision of the Madras High Court in recognising us as an important stakeholder in this matter.”

A source close to the petitioners, however, described the court’s decision as “disallowing” MSOs to directly implead in the main writ petition, the same way as it had not allowed Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) to implead itself in the case. “AIDCF can only intervene on the main matters of law under consideration, which is whether TRAI has jurisdiction over copyright issues relating to content,” the source opined.

TRAI, which has been trying to bring about semblance of order in the broadcast and cable sector in India via various guidelines, could not be reached for comments by indiantelevision.com till the time of writing this report. However, TRAI chairman RS Sharma had told indiantelevision.com in an year-end interview in December 2016 that the regulator’s main aim behind issuing draft guidelines relating to broadcast and cable tariff, quality of service and interconnection was to reduce litigation amongst stakeholders and create a broad playing arena for all players, including the consumers.

Industry sources had indicated that the MSOs had moved the court as they apprehended viewpoints of distribution platforms of TV services in India, notably the MSOs, may not be heard; especially when they have views that don’t converge with those of the petitioners on all aspects of the petition.

However, there is lack of clarity on the status of the petition filed by Videocon D2H, a distribution platform, to get impleaded in the aforementioned case being heard by Madras HC. The matter is listed for another round of hearing 7 March, 2017.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court, petitioned by TRAI, had refused to intervene in the case being heard by Madras HC and had stated in its last hearing few days back that it would wait for the outcome at the high court, listing TRAI appeal for a March-end hearing.

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