New Delhi: The information and broadcasting ministry has stopped considering applications to broadcast new television channels, causing an uproar in the industry.
The ministry, which formulates media policy, has suspended accepting applications to uplink television channels from India and to downlink channels into the country, it said in a statement published on its website on Monday.
The “notice amounts to censorship”, said an executive at the Zee group. “Instead of suspending receipt of applications, the government should devise stricter norms for entry of players in the segment,” the executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Uday Shankar, chief executive of Star India Pvt. Ltd, said he had not read the notice but felt the statement amounted “to a kind of censorship. The government is clamping down on new channels”.
At least 500 TV channels are beamed into Indian homes.
Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni has on several occasions said her ministry was looking at regulating the entry of channels due to a scarcity in radio spectrum.
Ministry officials were not available for comment.
In October, the ministry wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to “revisit” the present permission process for uplinking and downlinking TV channels, including the eligibility criteria and terms and conditions.
“We have not got any notification or communication from the government on the suspension of approval of licences or to expedite our process,” said a Trai official, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak with the media. “We are working on our consultation paper and it should be out shortly.”
Media experts say the ministry’s move indicates that it intends to keep non-serious firms out of broadcasting and wants to revamp licensing norms. Today, any firm with a net worth of Rs1.5 crore can apply for a licence for a TV channel. Often, firms that get a licence do not launch operations.
That’s not all.
“Spectrum is finite and so is satellite space,” said Atul Gupta, media consultant and a former distribution head of a Hindi news channel.
An internal document prepared by a media company shows that the rapid growth in broadcasting is eating up transponder space on satellites focused on Asia. In the next two years, India would need at least 500 transponders against the 270 it uses today. More transponders would be needed for broadcasters using technologies such as high-definition TV, HITS (head-ends in the sky) and WiMAX, a wireless communications system.
Mint has reviewed a copy of the document. The company did not want to be identified.
“However, foreign satellite companies like Intelsat, AsiaSat, Measat, Eutelsat and SES New Skies are upping capacity for the Indian customers,” said Anjan Mitra, executive director at industry lobby group Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia, India.
Ajay Jain, chief executive of Lamhas Satellite Services Ltd, a private teleport operator, dismissed suggestions of a satellite space crunch. “There is no capacity crunch on the satellite front,” he said. “The decision will affect our business. We have decided to approach the government as a collective body of teleport operators.”
Teleport is an uplink infrastructure broadcasters use to beam channels to a satellite for transmission over a specific area.