not one to be shaken, the broadcasting industry was caught
napping by the short injunction order issued by the Andhra
Pradesh High court, restraining all pay channels from
charging subscription fees for channels that consumers
do not want to see. What is most surprising is that some
of the leading channels were not even aware that such
a hearing was on in one of the courts in the country.
judgement was delivered on a public interest petition
filed by a resident of Andhra Pradesh against the information
and broadcasting ministry, Prasar Bharti, Doordarshan
(the state-owned television channel) and major
pay channels such as Star TV, Sony Entertainment Television,
ESPN and Turner Broadcasting (to name a few). The petition
demanded that the pay channels be stopped, under section
151 of the civil procedure code, from charging subscription
fees from consumers for those channels that the latter
do not want to watch.
the current system that is largely prevalent across the
country, consumers pay a flat rate of Rs 100 to Rs 300
per month to cable operators for a bundle of up to 70
channels, both encrypted pay channels as well as free-to-air.
The pay channels on the other hand have no direct contact
with the consumer, but collect the subscriber fees from
the cable networks directly.
In the interim judgement delivered by it, pending final
disposal of the hearing, the Andhra Pradesh court has
said, "The respondents, which in this case are the
broadcasting companies, are restrained from charging for
the pay channels which the petitioner/subscriber does
not propose to subscribe, irrespective of the fact whether
the subscriber is participating through the cable operator
to Mr. P.D Gandhi, vice president finance and legal affairs
and company secretary of Sony Entertainment (which
was aware of the case), "The order was passed
ex-parte and we are going to seek some more time."
Mr. Gandhi is however confident of tackling the case and
getting it suitably amended in favour of the industry.
He says that the case has been addressed to the wrong
set of people i.e. the broadcasters. "We do not deal
with the consumers directly. That is in the cable operators'
domain". He adds that, if anything, it is the cable
operator who should be asked to cut off channels the viewer
does not want.
Star TV has certainly been taken by surprise. It was not
aware of the case and did not till
the day of the judgement, seen the contents of the petition.
When contacted, the Star spokesperson said that the channel
had received a copy of the judgement and the channels
lawyers were looking into it. The channels initial
reaction, however, is the same as that of Sony TV, in
that it is for the cable operator to show or not to show
a particular channel.