I&B ministry to hold consultations on illegal and unauthorised television channels
New Delhi: The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has decided to hold consultations with broadcast industry stakeholders in a bid to crack down on illegal and unauthorised television channels that are transmitted by cable operators across the country.
The move follows fears over illegal channels spreading anti-national propaganda in border and remote areas, according to two people familiar with the development, who requested anonymity. The home ministry recently expressed concern over such channels.
“There is a need to monitor what cable operators are airing. The issue is that there is no central authority that can do so. The cable industry is very scattered and there is no central database of the details of cable operators. These consultations will help the ministry in understanding the situation better,” said the first of the two people cited above.
Currently, cable operators just have to register with the local post offices to start their operations, while larger multi-system operators (MSO) are required to apply to the I&B ministry in order to obtain a licence. MSOs are large cable distribution networks which own and operate more than one cable TV system. According to estimates from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), there are 900 multi-system operators (MSOs) and 60,000 cable operators in the country.
“The licensing conditions are very loose. Practically, there is no record of the number and details of local cable operators and consequently, there is no way of monitoring what they are airing. It is technologically impossible to keep a track of cable operators,” said the second person.
“Unless the licensing rules are tightened or cable digitization is actually complete, the situation can’t improve,” the person added.
The government had mandated a complete switch-over of the analog cable TV networks to digital addressable system (DAS) in four phases; phase IV was officially completed on 31 March 2017. However, industry estimates suggest that 95 million out of the total 183 million television households are still using analog signals, instead of installing set-top boxes (which do not transmit unencrypted/unauthorized signals), Mint had reported in May.
“It is not just the cable operators which are transmitting unauthorized channels. Licenced operators like direct-to-home (DTH) firms are equally responsible for this menace. We have written to the I&B ministry and requested a meeting to highlight this issue,” said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India.
Over the past year, the I&B ministry has repeatedly sent advisories to state governments to keep a check on illegal channels after the speeches of Islamic preacher Zakir Naik (aired on Peace TV) were said to have inspired the Bangladesh terror attack of 2016.
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Recently, former I&B minister M. Venkaiah Naidu had also asked the Jammu & Kashmir government to take illegal channels spreading ‘anti-India’ propaganda off the air. The J&K government was asked to take action against erring cable operators and submit a compliance report at the earliest.