Arasu heats up the media control war in TN

BY Sanjay Bharthur| IN Regional Media | 24/09/2011
As Jayalalitha moves to re-launch Arasu, the government controlled cable network to counter the control of the Karunanidhi family on broadcasting, some issues regarding licensing remain unresolved.
SANJAY BHARTUR on the possible ramifications of the move
 Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha formally launched the Government-owned Arasu Cable TV Corporation on September 2 and the media has suggested that it is a move against the Maran-controlled, multi-crore cable business in Tamil Nadu.
Nationalisation of cable TV or its variants was an election promise that she had made and with this move, it is said, Jayalalitha intends to take on her arch rival’s family. In the past, the governor has returned a bill with similar intent by stating that broadcasting was a central subject. There is still no clarity on how the state intends to tackle this aspect of the issue.  Historically, the control of broadcasting by state governments had some significance but with the privatization of broadcasting, this control can now be exercised by the state only if the state itself is controlled by a ruling party and if its members have large stake in media, which is very much the case in Tamil Nadu and other states.
The control over media by DMK Inc is well known however, and the present AIADMK government of Jayalalithaa intends to rein in the power by a stoppage of the free color TV scheme and reviving the Arasu (government) cable corporation intended to end the monopoly of the Maran brothers, grand nephews of the former Chief Minister.  As TOI reports this may take a while ``as the distribution is controlled by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and all cable TV related issues are dealt with by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Cable network operations come under MIB and licensed by the TRAI or head post offices in their respective district headquarters. The Cable TV Regulation Act 1995 states that a group 'A' officer of the central government has power to take any action against cable TV operators if they are found guilty of violations.”
The free color TV scheme was announced by DMK government and implemented on August 15, 2006. The State owned Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT) was to procure 152.8 lakh CTVs and distribute then. Summative assessment of this scheme by the present government indicates that only 1.27 lakh CTVs were yet to be distributed and the state government has halted the scheme. Opponents of DMK allege that the 1.64 crore TV sets distributed by the government cost Rs 3687.10 crore (average cost of ctv 2265). Along with cable subscription, procurement and distribution of sets have netted Karunanidhi’s family an annual revenue of Rs 4,000 crore, the say.
The Tamil Nadu Cable Operators Association has revived its demand for take over and revival of Arasu Cable TV Corporation Limited (ACTL). The TRAI based on registration details, collected from 22 postal circles across the country, reports that there are 14371 cable operators in TN. Few reports in the media narrate stories of the SUN TV harassing the operators.
The ACTL aims to provide signals to the public through Local Cable Operators and Multi System Operators to the end users at an affordable cost.  The chairman of the corporation, K. Radhakrishnan, undertook a tour of the state to submit a report to the CM. He said, “The ACTL, formed by the previous government had become defunct and there is an overwhelming demand from the public for its immediate revival to provide cable services at reasonable rates.’’ He said a lot of money had been spent to start the cable corporation however the project never took off.
As a revival move, it had invited local cable operators and multi system operators to register.   CAS issues apart as far as Chennai is concerned, cable TV operations are a livelihood for many in the districts and other towns. For example, a news story in NIE reports how cable TV buffs and local cable TV operators are awaiting the launch of the ACTL. Their argument is that while satellite channels are popular, local channels that air local events have been suffering. They also recall the halfhearted attempt of the DMK government to intervene in 2007. They feel the major cable TV channels backed by DMK fail to highlight welfare schemes of the AIADMK government.
The cable service that is likely to include pay channels as well is priced at Rs 70 per month.  Arasu cable has tied up with major channel distributors to downlink and further distribute to cable operators a total of 95 channels of different genres  and will include prominent channels of Zee, Star, Sony, ESPN, Times group, UTV and AXN. With the cable infrastructure unable to support more than 90 channels the bouquet will be perhaps less than what the people desire. The move to tax DTH services is viewed as another move aimed at affecting DMK Inc. 
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More