TDP Angry Over Star-DTH Dream, PMO Nervous

New Delhi, May 26: | Updated: May 27 2003, 05:30am hrs
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has become the latest entrant into the murky politics of conditional access system (CAS). Several TDP members of Parliament, led by C Ramachandraiah, have signed a complaint addressed to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The MPs accuse the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) of total violation of foreign equity guidelines for a direct-to-home (DTH) licence to Star TV-backed Space TV.

Star wants a DTH licence to stay ahead in the game of cornering Indias pay TV market. Present regulation prohibits more than 49 per cent foreign equity in DTH. Out of this the foreign direct investment (FDI) component cant exceed 20 per cent. So Star has backed an entity called Space TV, promoted by some key employees. Any regulatory delay in its DTH plansDTH is a wireless form of conditional accesswill benefit, among others, arch-rival Zee TV. Conversely, Zee is nervous that any second thoughts on the part of government, in launching the proposed CAS regime on July 14 in four metro cities, will help Star recover lost time. A candid Star CEO Peter Mukherjea told a trade website on Saturday that he would like the roll out of CAS to be pushed back to July 14, 2004.

DD Readies For Makeover
NIVEDITA MOOKERJI

New Delhi, May 26: In its effort to capture the market once the conditional access system (CAS) is rolled out, public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) is planning to improve its content and make its operations efficient. Besides strengthening the news bulletins on DD-1, which is the prime channel in the public broadcasters bouquet with tremendous reach, it has other plans up its sleeves too.

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With several TDP MPs standing up against the I&B ministrys help to Star (Space) TV, the government spent the day doing damage control that CAS may be delayed. Sudheendhra Kulkarni, a senior aide in the Prime Ministers Office (PMO), asked members of industry to help the government in addressing the smear campaign against CAS. The PMO is worried that Mr Vajpayee has been dragged into the controversy. The latest refrain is that PMO and Mr Vajpayee should not be seen as taking active part in the CAS debate.

Equally worried, the I&B minister said he will brief deputy Prime Minister LK Advani and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president M Venkaiah Naidu on this score. Yes, CAS is on, I am only ensuring its roll over is smooth, minister of state for I&B Ravi Shankar Prasad told PTI. BJP spokesperson MA Naqvi told FE that the CAS decision has been taken after all issues have been examined, and we cant be making up our minds as per different lobbies at play.

Governments political compulsion of keeping the TDP happy isnt hard to see. A mutiny in our mind compels us to intrude on your valuable time...We feel that when an irregularity of this nature and magnitude occurs, silence becomes a crime, the angry TDP MPs have claimed in their 2-page letter. They have indicted Mr Prasad for his reply on the subject in a Parliamentary debate on May 9. Space TV does not fulfil the most important criterion of foreign equity and yet approval letter has been issued.

The group met Mr Vajpayee on Monday evening. But, interestingly, they developed second thoughts over placing their complaint against Space TV today itself. We decided against raising two issues in one day. So, today we limited our protest to the illegal construction of reservoirs in Karnataka in the Pennar basin. This will hit four districts of Rayalseema. Tomorrow, we send the letter against Space TV, Mr Ramachandraiah told FE late Monday. How can this government have less stringent norms for television than it has for the print media The Space TV application is nothing but 100 per cent FDI (foreign direct investment), he said. A Star TV spokesperson did not return calls until the filing of this news report.