TV channel pricing: Supreme Court refuses to stay Bombay High Court order upholding Trai’s new tariff order

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October 02, 2021 1:00 AM

A bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhatt assured the television producers’ and broadcasters’ association that it will hear the case on November 30 and try to conclude the hearing the same day.

Justice Bhatt also said that unpaid dues by channels should not lead to adjusted gross revenue case like scenario, to which the department of telecommunications was a party. However, the government counsel said the two scenarios are not comparable.Justice Bhatt also said that unpaid dues by channels should not lead to adjusted gross revenue case like scenario, to which the department of telecommunications was a party. However, the government counsel said the two scenarios are not comparable.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay the Bombay High Court’s June 30 order that upheld Trai’s new tariff order (NTO) that mandated individual pricing for television channels and also capped their prices.

Under NTO 2.0, Trai has reduced the cap on the MRP of individual channels, which can be part of any bouquet, to Rs 12 from Rs 19 per month, which the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is opposing. The order also sets conditions for formation of channel bouquets, such as putting a price cap on channel bouquets.

A bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhatt assured the television producers’ and broadcasters’ association that it will hear the case on November 30 and try to conclude the hearing the same day.

Appearing for the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi argued that besides the 2020 regulation that fixed maximum price per channel at Rs 12, the broadcasters’ body is also challenging the earlier 2017 regulation in which maximum price was fixed at Rs 19. He said Trai’s action was arbitrary and wasn’t backed by any consumer insight, claiming that the order will reduce television channels provided in a bouquet.

Justice Bhatt also said that unpaid dues by channels should not lead to adjusted gross revenue case like scenario, to which the department of telecommunications was a party. However, the government counsel said the two scenarios are not comparable.

IBF, a unified representative body of television broadcasters in India, said the HC order violated fundamental rights of broadcasters as the right to fix charges for television channels can’t be regulated by authorities. The petitioners in the case include companies such as Zee Entertainment Enterprises, Star India, Disney India, Asianet, TV18 Broadcast, and Sony Pictures Networks India, and organisations like the Film and Television Producers Guild of India and Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation.

According to the appeals, the HC judgment had struck down one clause of the 2020 Tariff Order, the second ‘twin condition’, on the ground of it being arbitrary and violating requirements of transparency under Section 11(4) of the Trai Act. “The fundamental error of reading public interest as a valid consideration for regulating speech and expression has resulted in the HC upholding the power of Trai to regulate pricing and manner of offering of television channels, which admittedly is a right guaranteed and protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the appeal said.

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