The Bombay High Court has declined to give any interim relief to the Indian television broadcasters body – Indian Broadcasting Foundation – in the matter of the new tariff orders of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
However, the court has accepted the joint petition by broadcasters and instructed TRAI to submit a written reply in the form of an affidavit to state the reasons which necessitated the amendment of the tariff order and regulations. TRAI has been given a week’s time to submit its affidavit. The matter will next come up for hearing on January 22, Wednesday next.
The petition is being heard by the bench of Justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice RI Chagla.
IBF and eight other broadcasters have moved applications to challenge the new TRAI tariff plans and orders, which were to come into effect from today (January 15). The applicants have pleaded for a stay on the January 15 deadline or for an order to defer the same.
The broadcasters had challenged the order as arbitrary that affected their right to freedom of speech and expressions. The counsel for the petitioners, senior counsel Apsi Chinoy and Gopal Jain along with Abhishek Malhotra, Sapna Chaurasia and Sneha Herwade of TMT Law Practice had further submitted that the order was in violation of the Supreme Court order of 2017 on the pricing of channels by broadcasting companies.
The other arguments and grounds of the case included defiance of TRAI’s own directives of 2017 which provided a two-month period for compliances. It was also submitted that a short window will created compliance issues. It was further pleaded that the directive to reduce channel price from ₹ 19 was arbitrary and the new suggested price of ₹ 12 was based on the old data as the present cost factors are not taken into consideration.
The IBF and other petitioners also contended that the broadcasters, on an average, have lost 50% of the subscribers to whom their channels were reaching compared to the previous regime. This has impacted the ad as well as the subscription revenue of the broadcasters.
IBF counsel had also submitted that balance of convenience must be in the favour of broadcasters, who may suffer “irreversible damage” if the deadline isn’t deferred, while a deferral will not harm any party.
TRAI had argued the present tariff plans offered by broadcasters limited consumers choice to pick channels. While submitting that the broadcasters were informed in advance and there was time till March to fully implement the circular; TRAI further pleaded that the directives are issued in the broader interests of consumers at large and cannot be challenged by few companies.
The petitions are filed by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and its members like Star India, ZEEL, TV18, Viacom18, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI), Zoom Entertainment and Film & Television Producers Guild of India.