The Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s award of a digital addressable system (DAS) licence to the Tamil Nadu government-owned Arasu TV may set a precedent for other State-owned entities to own and operate cable businesses.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) officials and industry players, who share this concern, point out that the award of the licence may go against TRAI’s recommendation that State government entities not be allowed to enter broadcasting and distribution activities.

Previously, the I&B Ministry had said that TRAI’s recommendations were under consideration by an Inter-Ministerial Committee.

“We had given recommendations to the government stating that this goes against fair play and competition. Broadcasting systems controlled and managed by States are inconsistent with the basic principles of democracy,” a TRAI official told BusinessLine.

TRAI had underscored that even if the Centre permitted State-owned entities to operate, it should also provide for an appropriate exit route.

The TRAI official said the Sarkaria Commission had dealt with the issue extensively and had recommended against State governments owning and operating their own broadcasting stations or corporations.

Both Arasu TV and the I&B Ministry did not comment on the matter.

Several others lining up

Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporations (TACTV) was given the DAS licence earlier this year, four years after it had made an application.

State-owned entities of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Punjab are also understood to have approached the Ministry for a DAS licence.

Interestingly, under previous Minister Prakash Javadekar, the I&B Ministry had rejected the requests from the West Bengal and Punjab governments.

Industry players whom BusinessLine spoke to said that in developed democracies, the government is explicitly barred from holding any broadcasting licence.

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa had written to the I&B Ministry regarding clearance of MSO registration for TACTV for operating in the DAS-notified areas of Tamil Nadu.

Arasu Cable was granted provisional registration on April 2, 2008 for operating in Chennai during the conditional access system (CAS) regime. It applied for a DAS licence in 2012 for Chennai and rest of Tamil Nadu. – The Hindu Business Line