In view of the government ownership of TV channels, few ministries are taking the SVP route to bypass the TRAI regulation through which they can participate in a TV channel indirectly. The ministry of human resource and development (HRD), the departments of higher education (DoHE), space and telecommunications are planning to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle with public broadcaster Prasar Bharati as a stakeholder, to push a series of education channels and public service awareness content via DTH platform.
In December last year, TRAI had disallowed central/state governments or their departments from owning/distributing TV channels. The SPV route is sought to be justified through a 2009 Cabinet decision that allows the National Mission on Education to deliver TV/ e-content through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) using all possible technologies, including DTH. The decision for floating a SPV was taken recently at a high-level meeting of the Committee of Secretaries (CoS). The meeting was attended by secretaries of the departments of telecommunications, information and broadcasting, HRD, DoHE, legal affairs, science and technology, space and the cabinet secretary.
According to DoHE, ‘The use of DTH platform is “essential” for implementing the Right to Education Act and also for playing a major role in skill development. However the I&B ministry is said to have clarified to the CoS that the recommendations of TRAI will be applicable to the HRD ministry as well. The department of science and technology supported the SPV and stated that such an entity could be a good starting point that will not violate the guidelines of I&B ministry on ownership.
The CoS also said the SPV will become a self-sustaining entity, which may not depend on the government for financial assistance. According to a senior government official, ‘It was clarified by the I&B ministry in the meeting that the SPV will legally be under the Prasar Bharati with suitable representation by the HRD ministry on its board.
On November 30, 2012, I&B secretary Uday Kumar Varma wrote to TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar asking him to provide recommendations as to whether central, state government ministries and departments, state-owned firms, undertakings and joint ventures may be allowed in broadcasting.