Decision On Stars Uplinking To Set The Trend

New Delhi: | Updated: Oct 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
When Stars proposal to uplink its to-be-launched news channel from India goes to the Cabinet, the case is not likely to be taken up in isolation. The loud thinking in the government is, if Star News, which will be a 100 per cent foreign channel after its contract with content provider NDTV expires, wants to uplink from India, any other foreign broadcaster including BBC, CNN and NGC could also come up with a similar proposal later. So, the cabinet must be apprised of a situation like that, according to a senior official in the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry.

At present though, there is a difference between Stars news channel and others such as BBC, CNN and NGC. Star News, when it is launched in its new avatar next year, would broadcast news specific to India. But other foreign channels have only about 10 to 15 per cent of Indian news.

The uplinking guidelines state that any TV channel, irrespective of its ownership, equity structure or management control, which is aimed at Indian viewership, can uplink from India. Although the uplinking guidelines refer to Indian viewership, it is not clear whether foreign channels doing worldwide coverage such as CNN and BBC can uplink from India or not. Taking up the issue of uplinking of foreign channels at the cabinet level is aimed at clearing the confusion.

The uplinking issue is likely to be taken up by the cabinet within a month. Star, sources said, has to give some more information in the context of uplinking from India. Star has applied to the government for uplinking its news channel through Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL). Government officials clarified that Star, by virtue of being a foreign channel, cannot set up its own teleport/hub. For setting up uplinking facility/teleport, the hardware must be 51 per cent owned by an Indian. Star is being seen as the first foreign broadcaster to request uplinking from India, and therefore the government concern.

But Zee network, which was earlier permitted to uplink its news channel among others from India, is promoted by Mr Subhash Chandra, a non-resident Indian. However, government officials say that in the case of a news channel, theres a distinction between an NRI and foreign entity. Unlike any other business, news is sensitive, they point out. The uplinking guidelines, however, do not make any such distinctions.

Among the primary advantages of uplinking from India is that TV channels can have resources in their hands in an emergency situation like war. Also, the transmission cost is less for channels. As for the government, it may mean better control over content. When a channel uplinks from India, it needs to adhere to the programming and advertising codes laid by the government. But, without a regulator, it is tough to monitor whos flouting the rules, an official said.