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MIB clears TV channel applications; Rathore calls for stakeholder meets

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NEW DELHI: Within days of Rajyavardhan Rathore given independent charge of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) by the PM Modi-led government after removal of his senior Smriti Irani, the organisation has been galvanised into action. What’s more, important issues are being discussed, including clearances of three new TV channel applications and meetings being called with broadcast industry stakeholders to debate matters like use of foreign satellites versus Indian ones.

The three TV channels that have been reportedly given initial government go-ahead --- further processes like bank guarantees, etc need to be completed --- include Aastha Kannad, Aastha Tamil and Aastha Telugu. All these channels are Indian language off-shoots of the religious product Aastha network that at present broadcasts in Hindi.

Though critics may say the government has given the nod to three TV channels in South Indian languages belonging to Vedic Broadcasting Ltd (VBL), which is controlled by Yoga guru`Patanjali’ Ramdev’s close associate Acharya Balkrishna and considered close to the present BJP-led government in New Delhi, independent observers feel at least MIB has started taking a stand on applications, a process that was halted for the last nine months or so for various reasons.

Media industry sources indicated that over 100 applications for TV channels are pending at MIB. And, such applications include ones from big and small broadcast companies.

VBL is controlled by majority shareholder Balkrishna, who, along with Ramdev, bought it in 2011 from the people who had started a religious TV channel few years back airing yoga shows, religious sermons and some cultural programmes.

When VBL is searched on Google, one is taken to www.acharyabalkrishna.com where it is indirectly stated that Balkrishna is the managing director. It is further stated: “Vedic Broadcasting Limited is also part of his vision. It [’s a] pioneer & leading socio-cultural network in India. Astha & Astha Bhajan Channel is propagating Indian culture and heritage, Health, Ayurveda, Education, Yoga, Values and Morals, Devotional songs, Spiritual meetings, talks, etc. The channels are available globally covering the continents of Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America (USA & Canada), thus, enabling global organisations an opportunity to reach followers and other viewers worldwide.”

Meanwhile, both government and industry sources indicated that MIB, under Rathore, is attempting to be a breath of fresh air, if not completely turn over decisions taken earlier under Irani. One such step in that direction was to start convening meetings with TV channels and their holding companies in an attempt to try to address some of the concerns.

In one such meeting held this week, the representatives from the broadcasting company owning and operating over 30 TV channels in India were asked about their concerns. Also present were government officials from Department of Space and Indian space agency ISRO.

When the issue of migration to an Indian satellite from foreign ones was brought up by the TV channel reps in the meeting, it was conveyed to them politely that it would be in the national interest to do so, though those having existing contracts could be allowed, in all probability, to go through with contractual obligations.

One of the concerns relating to leasing space on foreign satellites is that ISRO, according to industry sources, was unwilling to come forth with data on disaster and backup management in case an Indian satellite, through which a TV channel is beaming, for example, sputtered or developed some snag.

The sources said that more such meetings are in the pipeline with other broadcasting companies.

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