The uplink-downlink puzzle

Source: The post is based on an article “The uplink-downlink puzzle” published in Business Standard on 18th November 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2- Governance

Relevance: concerns associated with New Guidelines for TV channels

News: The government has recently come with the guidelines for uplinking and downlinking of satellite television channels in India.

What do the guidelines say?

It states that a broadcaster who uplinks a channel from India and then downlinks it for broadcast here will have to broadcast for 30 minutes in a day on themes of national interest and social relevance.

The guidelines include news and non-news channels for broadcasting themes of national interest.

It has also done away with approval for every live event and also allows limited liability partnerships (LLPs) companies for uplinking foreign channels from Indian teleport.

What has been the stand of government regarding these guidelines?

The government used the SC judgment of 1995 which said that “airwaves are public property” to justify its stand.

However, the judgment only specifies the “public trust doctrine” which makes the state as a trustee of public resources and directs the State functionary to be transparent in dealing with public resources.

Therefore, using this doctrine for private TV channels is a misinterpretation of the judgment. Moreover, there are concerns associated with the current guidelines.

What are the concerns?

India wants to become a hub like Singapore but its process is not as easy as Singapore offers. For example, applications for registration have been made online but the process is not online end-to-end.

The process has been made for easing of permissions but Indian board control and trademark registration is required. It also does not provide ease of operation for foreign companies like Singapore does.

Due to these regulatory compliances only 22 channels use India as an uplink hub against a few thousand from Singapore.

According to MIB data, over 772 channels are uplinked out of India but these are downlinked and broadcasted within India.

What was the need of these guidelines?

Cable/DTH is facing tough competition as viewers are moving away from it to OTT platforms, free-to-air television and free OTT.

Further, online streaming platforms such YouTube, Instagram and others have seen a rise in viewers. Google and Meta take away roughly 70 percent of all digital advertising due to their large number of viewers.

The pandemic also put pressure on ad revenues of the TV channels and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai’s) pricing mechanism for channels has put pressure on pay revenues.

These issues have led to the merger of TV channels such as Disney-Star, Zee-Sony.

Therefore, this policy addresses these concerns by providing ease of compliances, ease of doing business and making India a teleport hub.

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