MIB has delivered justice, say small broadcasters on simultaneous uplinking order

Prasar Bharati’s DD Free Dish is the only free-to-air (FTA) Direct-To-Home service which enables millions of Indians, especially the economically weaker sections in the country’s hinterlands and small towns, to access TV without paying a monthly subscription fee. All they need to do is pay one-time amount of about Rs 2,000 for obtaining the DD Free Dish set-top box.

DD Free Dish features 167 TV channels and 48 radio channels, including 91 DD channels and 76 private TV channels. Today, DD Free Dish has become the largest DTH platform with reach to more than 43 million households, according to the ministry. Between 2017 and 2022 alone, the Free DTH service registered a growth of almost 100% from 22 million in 2017 to 43 million in 2022, according to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB).

However, DD Free Dish’s operations have not been without some controversies, primarily of some private broadcasters getting on to the platform without paying the necessary carriage fees.

In a move to address this, the MIB recently withdrew the permission given to Zee Media Corporation Ltd (ZMCL) for simultaneous uplinking of 10 of its TV channels in Ku Band on GSAT-15 satellite and C Band through the teleport of Dish TV India Ltd. According to the MIB order, ZEE Media was violating clause 5.1 of the uplinking guidelines and clause 5.6 of downlinking guidelines. The broadcaster had taken dual transmission approval for uplinking both in Ku-Band and C band, and due to their co-location, they got the advantage to be on DD Free Dish without paying for the huge auction fee other broadcasters were paying to be on. Uplinking and downlinking of private satellite TV channels in India are governed by the 2011 policy guidelines issued by Ministry.

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Approval given to Zee Media to uplink in Ku-Band revoked

In April this year, Doordarshan authorities had written to BARC India to take action against these channels, which were available on FTA set-top boxes even though they were not allotted slots on DD Free Dish by Prasar Bharati. This step was taken after some leading news broadcasters had approached the MIB, claiming that it gave Zee an “unfair advantage.”

These broadcasters had alleged that the availability of Zee’s regional news channels on DD Free Dish had an “adverse impact on other regional news channels, loss of revenue to Prasar Bharati and violation of law”.

In order to get a deeper understanding of the matter and how this impacts the broadcasting sector, especially news broadcasters, Adgully reached out to a cross-section of broadcasters. What emerged out of the conversations were long-held grievances that had remained unaddressed up till now.

Some broadcasters alleged that availing the DD Free Dish service without taking part in the auction process or paying the necessary carriage fees is one of many anomalies plaguing the system.

There were also those who saw it as a move in the right direction. Commenting on the development, an ABP Network spokesperson said: “We welcome the recent development of revocation of permission given to Zee channels for simultaneous uplinking in Ku Band. The decision is a big relief to the entire news genre, who were subjected to unfair competition as a consequence. The prayers made through ad nauseam representations of industry to the government over the last several years finally get vindicated, and we are thankful to the Ministry for taking steps in the right direction.”

“It is justice delayed but delivered finally,” said another top executive of a broadcasting company, who at the same time added, “However, it is still not complete justice.” According to him, illegal occupants of DD Free Dish were allowed to flourish for years and make money at the cost of genuine channels, which could never “furnish DD Free Dish’s obscenely high fee.”

Voicing his grievance, the executive asked: “Who will compensate for the loss to smaller channels that have suffered at the lack of action by the GoI?”

He further added: “There were channels which got away through illegally obtained court stays and continued to pay a paltry fee. DD Free Dish never challenged those orders and continued to pass on the benefit of high TRPs at low fees. A thorough probe is needed to know why a level playing field is still not provided to regional and smaller, but meritorious channels.”

The broadcast industry executives are unanimous in their view that the government should be just in this regard.

“It’s a good move by the government. All this while, smaller players were suffering. The government should remain unbiased and just. All the words and deeds of the government should be perceived as just. DD and Prasar Bharati are public service organisations. How will the public benefit if the authorities don’t act justly?” asked a leading broadcasting executive, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The executive noted: “The new Telecom Draft Bill terms spectrum as being similar to ‘atma’. ‘Like atma, spectrum, too, does not have any physical form, yet it is omnipresent.’ There are a lot of anomalies in the thought and action.”

Another broadcasting executive felt that the government authorities had not taken sufficient action against such practices. He alleged that there exists a nexus between some TV channels and the authorities in this regard.

While stating that 40 per cent of India’s population accesses TV through DD Free Dish, the executive alleged that some channels are visible on DD Free Dish illegally. “It is a clear nexus between the government authorities and these channels. It is a fraud that has been going on silently for a while. How come a channel appears on DD Free Dish without paying for the required bandwidth charges? Here, the government satellites are being used by these channels illegally,” he maintained.

Meanwhile, welcoming the move, another regional broadcaster also raised the issue of high fees charged by DD Free Dish.

Rabindra Narayan, Managing Director & President, PTC Network, said, “PTC broadcasts Gurbani from Sri Darbar Sahab Amritsar and is FTA, but DD Free Dish demands upwards of Rs 10 crore to make Gurbani available to devotees. We don’t take sponsors and we don’t charge viewers. How are we expected to pay such high fees? The result is devotees do not get to watch live telecast of Gurbani on DD Free Dish.”

Earlier, another leading news broadcaster was also accused of circumventing Prasar Bharati’s auction process to get a slot on DD Free Dish.

By taking action in the simultaneous uplinking case, the government has given a clear indication that it is ready to address the long-pending grievance of the broadcasters. This is a welcome move in the direction of establishing a level playing field for all. In their conversation with Adgully, the broadcasters pointed out at several anomalies in the system and expressed the hope that the government will clean up the house in time.

Additional inputs by Shanta Saikia


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