'A revolutionary year that was also one of the government's total failure to control the broadcasters'


After working for decades on the analogue system, 2007 was a huge learning year. Whether from the regulator or from the ministry's side, or from the Prime Minister's Office, this was a revolutionary year.

The major thing, of course, was the implementation of CAS, though implementation was partial, but this implementation was a slap on the face of people who put in all their efforts to derail it. More than anyone else, even more than the broadcasters, the ones who tried their level best to stop CAS were the distributors of the MSOs.

Broadcasters and distributors both lose out if CAS comes in, and the broadcasters are hit because they are earning both from subscription as well as advertisement, and now SMS revenue stream.

One of the ugliest efforts for derailing CAS this year was the press conference and the false survey report shown by a section of the NGO called VOICE. They said 70 per cent of the CAS subscribers wanted to go back to the old ways, but now it is clear that the so-called survey had been sponsored by a broadcaster and everyone knows who that is.

It is the advertisers who would have gained because as of now they do not know where their money is going and where they should actually put that in, and SMS in CAS regime would tell the real story. This is why various advertiser groups have come in support of Cas.

From the content side, again this was a very important year. The viewers were very unhappy with news content and the government tried to do something but eventually failed.

All these news broadcasters are launching channels every day not to inform the people but to have more and more power, sometimes using that power to blackmail politicians and officials. There is an attempt to capture the media and have clout. If they were serious news people, then one broadcaster would not launch two or three news channels. They are also now launching regional news channels because they want to capture power area-wise and rule there. Apart from earning money, they want to control the mindset of the people.

The government's attempts to control these news channels failed miserably because the channels formed a strong lobby against the Content Code suggested by the government. This shows that the government is able to control only the farmer or the last mile operator, the cablewallah. Because as per the Cable Act, only the LMO will be targeted, whether it is for programming content that is unacceptable or the advertisements shown, over which last mile has no control.

The LMOs do not have too much money, so they lose out in courts because they cannot hire top lawyers, and they cannot lobby with the government because they are not always qualified people or have a political clout. That is why they are the least heard, but this year, that is one big thing that has happened: the government, whether in the ministry or Telecom Regulatory Authority have at least started hearing us. I will tell you how.

One of the most dangerous things that happened in this year is the total vertical integration of companies who have a finger in all the pies, being broadcasters, running MSOs, getting into DTH, IPTV and mobile TV. The government has failed to take steps against this monopolisation. Their officers are trying but the politicians are not allowing this.

But two very important positives things happened this year, and if we have not started running, we have taken a few right steps. We are trying to control the broadcasters through some NGOs, and the government has started listening to us. They may not be doing much, but they are surely listening.

One is the Content Code, and the second is digitalisation, which will help people watch more and more channels. The PMO has formed a committee on digitalisation. The other good thing is that the I&B ministry is trying its best to bring down the duties on the equipment, though finance ministry is not in a mood to listen.

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