Prasad To Meet Vajpayee Today

New Delhi, May 23 : | Updated: May 24 2003, 05:30am hrs
Information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, whos returning from Cannes on Saturday, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister AB Vajpayee the same evening. They are likely to discuss issues related to the controversial conditional access system (CAS). With apprehensions growing within the Bharatiya Janata Party about introduction of CAS, the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) is taking a keen interest in the matter.

Although officials in the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry have maintained that CAS will be introduced on the scheduled date, speculation about a rollback has continued. To seek assurance that CAS is not getting deferred, a group of independent cable operators met media advisor and PMO aide Sudheendra Kulkarni on Thursday. They gave a memorandum to Mr Kulkarni highlighting the repercussions of CAS getting deferred.

Mr Kulkarni was present in some I&B meetings on CAS to weigh the pros and cons of the new channel distribution system. In the meeting with the cable operators, the PMO indicated that some members of the ruling party were concerned about CAS being introduced just before the assembly elections. According to an operator who attended the meeting, the rollback of CAS would have a negative impact on the elections. In fact, the cable operators are threatening to hike the monthly charges from July if CAS is not introduced as per schedule. They also stressed that if CAS was rolled back, monopoly of broadcasters and multi-system operators would go up.

Meanwhile, pay broadcasters including Star have begun talks with cable operators about their business plans in CAS regime. Free-to-air broadcasters, on the other hand, are trying to get the government to stretch the basic tier beyond 30 channels. As per government guidelines, the basic tier should constitute a minimum of 30 free-to-air channels, to be priced at Rs 72 plus taxes. The deadline for introducing CAS in the metros is July 14.