In a development that will have
immediate implications for various state governments including
Tamil Nadu, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)
has held that central and state governments should not be
allowed to enter the "business of broadcasting".
In recommendations that were submitted today, TRAI said that not just governments but political bodies should also not be allowed to enter the broadcasting sector.
I&B secretary Uday Kumar Varma had on November 30th written to TRAI seeking recommendations on whether state or central governments or entities on which they have control could be allowed to enter broadcasting or distribution of channels.
In reply to Varma's letter, TRAI's secretary in-charge Sudhir Gupta said that central government ministries, departments, companies, joint ventures or entities which belong to or are funded by centre or state governments "should not be allowed to enter in to the business of broadcasting and or distribution of TV channels."
TRAI's recommendations hold special implications for the TN government's Arasu Cable TV Corporation Private Limited as it needs to obtain fresh permission from the I&B ministry after Digitisation of cable services is implemented in Chennai.
The Punjab government had approached the I&B ministry for setting up a TV station, while there were proposals from the Gujarat government and the HRD ministry to start channels.
The AP government had submitted a proposal for distribution of signals of Mana Tv through cable operators.
TRAI said that it had in its earlier recommendations in 2008 held that political bodies should not be allowed to enter
broadcasting activities. To ensure that, it suggested that its
earlier recommendations relating to 'Disqualification of
political bodies' should be followed.
The Authority recommended that political bodies and people affiliated or associated with them should be barred from entering into broadcasting and distribution activities by incorporating the disqualifications into the relevant rules, regulations and guidelines.
TRAI said that in case permission has already been granted to a state entity to enter cable distribution platform, then the central government should provide an appropriate exit route.
In its recommendations, the regulator said that the arms length relationship between Prasar Bharati and the government be further strengthened. It said that measures that ensure functional independence and autonomy of Prasar Bharati need to be taken.
TRAI mentioned that it had in 2008 examined these issues and suggested that entry of state or central governments in to broadcasting is not allowed. It said that both the Sarkaria Commission and Supreme Court judgements on related matters had also stressed the same.
TRAI, in its letter to the ministry, said that there was a need to have safeguards so that its recommendations, if accepted, are not bypassed.
It said that a political party which is in office in a state may want to enter into broadcasting but acceptance of these recommendations would impose an embargo on its plans, which may prompt the party to devise alternative ways.