Supreme Court rejects Star India's plea against recent Trai tariff order

By Viveat Susan Pinto , Business Standard, Mumbai | In Media Publishing
Last updated : November 02, 2018 05:10 AM
Experts say the move has far-reaching implications for the broadcast industry, with channel prices to be regulated by an independent body.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the plea filed by Star India against the recent tariff order by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) regarding pricing and packaging of television channels, paving the way for its regulation by the body.

Star India

The move has far-reaching implications for the broadcast industry, since the debate about whether the Trai Act of 1997 superseded the Copyright Act of 1957 is now settled, said legal experts tracking the case. Broadcasters in India have used the Copyright Act, 1957, to argue their point that content televised on their channels should be monitored and priced by them. The Trai Act of 1997, on the other hand, gives this power to the regulator following an amendment in 2004, which brought broadcasters under its purview. It is only now though that Trai is enforcing its powers, experts said.

Star India had challenged the May 23 order of the Madras High Court order in the Supreme Court, saying it was in conflict with the Copyright Act of 1957. The Madras High Court had upheld Trai's regulations preventing broadcasting firms from mixing free-to-air channels with pay channels in bouquets, aimed at regulating pricing of channels.

On Tuesday, a bench comprising Justices Rohinton F Nariman and Navin Sinha dismissed the challenge by Star and Vijay Television, upholding Trai's arguments.

According to the order, which was enforced by the body on July 3, broadcasters were required to declare the retail price and nature of all the channels within 60 days. Additionally, distribution platforms were mandated to declare network capacity fee and the distribution retail price within 180 days to bring about transparency and dissuade over-pricing. "It is an important judgment with regard to the debate about the Trai Act and Copyright Act and its application pertaining to broadcasters and distributors of TV channels," Kunal Tandon, an independent lawyer and legal expert practising in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court said.

Star India declined to comment. But rivals were quick to react to the verdict on Tuesday. Subhash Chandra, chairman, ZEE and Essel Group, said, "The SC order has empowered consumers across the nation. While the overall media and entertainment landscape has been evolving rapidly, it is for the first time in 26 years that such a strong and positive step has been taken to eradicate the lack of transparency in the cable and broadcast value chain," Chandra said.

According to industry sources, Star is yet to declare its channel pricing to the regulator owing to the litigation it was embroiled in and would be forced to do so following the verdict. Most of other broadcasters, including ZEE, had declared their channel pricing earlier.

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First Published : October 31, 2018 04:54 AM


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