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Govt approval cloud hangs over Zee business channel plans

Nithya Subramanian

New Delhi , Aug. 8

A FRESH round of controversy may be brewing in the broadcasting sector with the Zee Group firming up plans to launch a business news channel on the direct-to-home (DTH) platform shortly.

While sources in the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry said that companies planning to launch news channels uplinking from India whether on cable or DTH need prior Government clearance, Zee has not yet applied for any such clearance for its proposed channel on the DTH platform.

Company officials said that there was no need to seek Government permission for launching a news channel on the DTH platform, but reiterated that they would not violate any law.

"Whether the platform is cable or DTH, news channels wishing to uplink from India must get clearance from the Government and must adhere to the norms," said the Government sources.

The I&B Ministry has already spelt out detailed guidelines for news channels with foreign equity which includes a 26 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) cap and makes it mandatory for management and editorial control to remain with Indians.

Under the existing DTH norms also, it is necessary for an operator to use an Indian satellite to uplink the channels. "If the channels do not comply with the DTH guidelines, the Government has the power to switch them off," said sources.

Meanwhile, a Zee official said, "As far as we understand we do not need Government clearance to launch a channel on a DTH platform. We feel that the uplinking norms and the DTH norms are different and there is no linkage. According to the DTH guidelines, we only have to adhere to the programming code. Our application for the news channel on cable is still pending." Zee Business channel is being soft launched on sister-concern ASC Enterprises' Dish TV platform. The broadcaster had planned to start operations by having eight hours of live content and then extend it to 24-hours.

The Government has once-again extended the deadline given to Zee Telefilms, TV 18 and some others to restructure its operations to comply with the revised uplinking guidelines. Both Zee News and CNBC-TV 18 have been uplinking from India even before the Government had come out with norms for foreign news channels.

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