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Arasu DAS licence: Stakeholders fear flurry of similar requests & permissions

NEW DELHI: Even as Tamil Nadu state government-backed MSO Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corp (TACTV) expressed satisfaction at getting the DAS license after “five years of struggle”, some other stakeholders felt this move by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may go against a policy recommendations by sector regulator TRAI and, possibly, open up floodgates for similar requests from other local governments.

TACTV general manager Ramana Saraswathi, while welcoming the development, told indiantelevision.com that the matter about shuttering analogue signals within three months was something that the state government would decide.

She said that TACTV would await government instructions. Incidentally, the state government in Tamil Nadu state is an ally of the BJP-led NDA coalition that is in power in New Delhi.

While officially analog has had a sunset on 31 March 2017 in India, MIB’s internal review of the ground situation revealed that full digital play is yet to be a reality. The Andhra Pradesh state government, meanwhile, had exhorted MIB to extend the March 2017 deadline, which had received no official feedback from MIB.

However, not everybody was as upbeat as Arasu. Most MSOs and LCOs outside Tamil Nadu, contacted by indiantelevision.com, made clear their apprehension saying this might "open the floodgates” and “other state governments may take advantage” of this by regularising or floating MSO companies, which will indirectly help politicians control what all gets aired and what all people can watch.

One Andhra-based MSO said that an inter-ministerial committee had itself held that the matter was one of policy that should be decided by the MIB. LCO Sky Vision managing director R S Raju said that when TRAI has submitted a series of recommendations on why government or semi-government bodies should not be allowed in TV distribution business, which are awaiting a final decision at MIB, such permissions, conditional or otherwise, send a wrong signal to the industry players.

Saharsh Damani of the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) said the organization would study the government order in detail and then give an official reaction.

In August 2014, TRAI had suggested barring political parties from entering into broadcasting space, while it recommended several restrictions on the corporate houses in this regard.  It had made a similar recommendation in December 2012 and earlier in November 2008.

"Ownership is a huge concern... how do you know that a TV channel operated out of Bhopal owned by a local MLA or MP is conveying the truth rather than tinted version of the truth. This is one problem with political ownership," the then TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar had said in 2014 while releasing recommendations on 'Issues Relating to Media Ownership'.

TRAI had suggested that entities, including political bodies, religious bodies, central and state government ministries and government funded entities be barred from entry into broadcasting and TV channel distribution sectors.

The regulator even suggested that surrogates of such entities too "should be barred”.

TRAI had pushed for enactment of a new legislation through an executive decision for its recommendations to be implemented, while suggesting an exit option should be provided in case permission to any such organizations had already been granted.

Arasu’s conditional license makes things that much more difficult for MIB and other central government department to take a final decision on the regulator’s suggestions.

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