How things change! It was hardly a year-and-a-half ago that direct to home television was a bad word with everyone concerned. Every politician screamed that it would pose a threat to national security when Star TV threatened to flag off its ISkyB project. The major opposition to ISkyB came from wannabe DTH players such as Subhash Chandra and Lalit Modi as they did not want Murdoch to be the first in this game in the Indian market.

But that was when the United Front government was in power. All political parties, including the BJP, agreed that DTH should not be allowed. Now the shoe is on the other foot and it is the BJP which is ruling the nation with support from allies who themselves supported the ban on DTH. The information & broadcasting minister is a Pramod Mahajan, who is also the fund raiser for the BJP. And suddenly, DTH television seems OK. And the government seems set to give a decision either way on this niche but lucrative business in the next few weeks. Mahajan‘s predecessor Sushma Swaraj seemed in no hurry to give the go-ahead to DTH. And his minister of state M.A. Naqvi was quite emphatic that DTH would not be allowed independent of the Broadcasting Bill.

What goes with the BJP-led government? Has it forgotten the threat to national security or was there never a threat? And what goes with its allies, and the Janata Dal and the Congress? Have they been hit by a bout of amnesia about what they so strongly opposed hardly a couple of years ago? Or is it that the anti-Murdoch lobby in government and amongst politicians is no longer anti him because Chandra has made peace with the global media baron? And what about the auctioning of the direct-to-home service licences under the broadcast bill? Has all that been erased from everyone‘s memory? Will that be resorted to or will there be ad hocism in the DTH television business?

Of course, people will argue that things have changed in a couple of years and people can channels that they want to watch over the Internet. So it will be useless to rein in DTH. Rather, let it roll out and make money from what has to hit Indian consumers anyway. Let those foreigners who want to enter the market with their projects do so in partnership with state-owned broadcaster DD having control over most aspects of the business.

But we all know what happened when DD tied up with Measat two years ago: it did nothing. DD and information and broadcasting ministry officials simply sat on the proposal they had received for an assoication with the Malayasian DTH service. This writer is not opposed to technology nor is he sold on the threat to national security hoodoo that politicians raised but is opposed to opportunism on the part of governments. They ban what they deem fit or is politically right; they allow what they think they should. There appears to be little reasoning and strategy behind the decisions they take.

Currently, there is no framework in place; no Broadcast Authority of India. There are no codes for advertising and editorial content on television. What is good for DD needn‘t be good for DTH television which is a niche service targeted at well-heeled people. Unless the government has a coherent strategy- apart from raising money -- behind allowing DTH services, it should not. The money will disappear quickly. And we may well end up with a repeat of what happened with telecom licensing. Respected Mr Vajpayee, Mr Narayan, and Mr Mahajan please do your homework before taking decisions you may well regret in future.

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