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Distribution discomfort for Indian news channels

 article about Distribution discomfort for Indian news channels
Totally dependent on the advertisement revenues, where the monetary contribution from millions of viewers never reach the management of news channels, Nava Thakuria ponders how do these media outlets can pursue ethical and impartial journalism.

The recent closure of a Guwahati based satellite news channel unearthed many odd faces of the distribution process of television channels across the country. When the news came on October 1, 2013 regarding the decision of the management of Prime News, a 24x7 private news channel to suspend its telecast immediately, an astounding issue relating to the ambiguity of news channels' distribution process had also surfaced.

It reveals that a news channel owner has to spend for everything including the production and also distribution of its news & other programs to its viewers, and amazingly the whole expenditures have to be compensated from the advertisements. The channel owner does not get any amount of money from its subscribers even if they are in millions. Indirectly it means, not the viewers but the advertisers always enjoy a major say in the content of the news channels irrespective of its merit and authenticity.

Just before closing down the news channel, the management of Prime News apprised its employees that was it asked to pay nearly Indian rupees two crore by the cable network of Assam as a distribution or carriage fees, but the management could not materialize it. In response, the cable operators blacked-out the Prime News for nearly three weeks in September 2013.

Moreover, the Prime News had no slot in any of direct-to-home (DTH) services of India and hence the viewers were not able to enjoy any news and other programmes of the channel for all these days resulting a very poor television rating points. Taking advantages of the situation, the proprietor had suddenly decided to close down the channel, argued the employees of Prime News.

The owners of Guwahati based private news channels often says that they have to pay over rupees two crore, which is one sixth of their annual expenditure, to the cable operators across Assam every year for facilitating the distribution of their programs to the subscribers (or viewers).

However a cable television operators' association in Guwahati argues that they have lawful right to receive money from the channel owners as the ‘carriage fee'. They also claimed that the carriage fee is legitimate under the legal procedure of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and Indian Union information & broadcasting ministry.

Not only the local cable network, the demand for money in tune of crores are also put forward by the DTH service providers. The news channel owners in Guwahati claim that they have to pay over rupees 2.5 crore for the entry into the DTH space. Moreover, the DTH operators in India namely Dish TV, Tata Sky, Sun Direct, Airtel Digital TV, Reliance Digital TV, Videocon D2H, BIG TV etc always select a bunch of channels with the motive of profit only, irrespective of the commitment of the concerned channels to the country and the nation.

Mentionable is that the DTH services have completed 10 years in India, as New Delhi issued the license to Dish TV to operate in the country since October 2003. Initially concentrated on the rural market of India, where the cable operators are not visible still today, the DTH operator slowly encroached into city and metros. By 2006, Tata Sky had joined in the competition with high quality signal and a kind of choice for the subscribers to select their package of channels. The rest of the DTH operators had stepped into the business in and after 2008 to give a huge boost to the Indian television distribution market.

Today, the DTH operators tap over 40 million active subscribers in India and the number is increasing every month. With quality transmission, the DTH operators have empowered the subscribers to select their packages (unlike depending on the mercy of cable operators in case of cable connection) and also the broadcasters to know the exact number of subscribers across the country, where as the cable operators show lower number of subscribers always to siphon a huge amount of subscription money.

Both the offices of Union information & broadcasting ministry and the TRAI were contacted for their point of views in this respect, but no communiqué as the response was received.
India with a population of over one billion today supports more than 800 local satellite television channels, more than half of those are news channels airing programmes in different languages. The Union ministry sources reveal that there are over 410 privately owned news & current affairs channels till March 2013 in India mounting the news broadcasting industry up to 20 billion rupees worth business.

Subhash Chandra, chairperson of Zee Entertainment Enterprises had recently claimed that the Indian news channels were making losses and there was no room for so many news channels in the country. Speaking to journalists in Mumbai, the Zee television chief however admitted that the media isn't free of corruption and it is a cause for concern.

Mr Chandra also predicted that the corruption in the media would rise further and then there would be correction.

Journalists' Forum Assam (JFA), an active media person's organizations has raised voices for reforming the distribution system of local news channels. The JFA, in a recent letter to Manish Tewari, Union information & broadcasting minister argued that the transaction between the channel owner and the cable operators as well as DTH authority should be made accountable under the income tax department.


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