The Madras High Court on Wednesday upheld Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulations preventing broadcasting companies from mixing free-to-air channels with pay channel in bouquets. The ruling is a setback to two leading broadcasters: Star India and Vijay Televisions.

In a 150-page judgement, Justice MM Sundaresh affirmed the findings of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and upheld TRAI’s Interconnect Regulations and Tariff Order dated March 3, 2017.

In March, the First Bench comprising Chief Justice Banerjee and Justice M Sundar of the Madras High Court had delivered a split verdict in Star Vijay’s litigation against the regulations, arguing that content pricing should be left to broadcasters’ discretion.

The matter was referred to a third Judge, MM Sundaresh, who gave the order on Wednesday.

Senior advocates Abishek Manu Singhvi, P Chidambaram and Gopal Jain appeared for petitioners (Star TV and Vijay TV), and P Wilson, Senior Advocate, appeared for TRAI.

Wilson said that by virtue of the majority ruling that the regulations and the tariff orders are constitutionally valid and intra vires of TRAI Act, the entire broadcasting regime stands completely changed from today. Broadcaster need to declare in the public domain their free-to-air channels and the MRP of their pay channels.

A broadcaster cannot now discriminate against any distributor, and the pay channel price should be uniform to all. The terms of reference of the Interconnect Offer should be transparent and uniform to all distributors and the price of a la carte channels shall not exceed ₹19, if the same is offered in a bouquet, he said. Further, 100 free-to-air channels should be offered at ₹130 per month.

The regulations fix a maximum 20 per cent fee on the MRP for distributors with an outer limit of 15 per cent discount. However, the Chief Justice struck down this 15 per cent cap on discounts, Wilson said. –Business Line