The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 regulates the functioning of cable television networks in India, including content broadcast by the media and the entertainment industry. The Act limits the irresolute expansion of satellite broadcasting companies.
Before the inception of cable television in India, state-approved programs were broadcast. ‘Satellite television’ was launched in India in 1990. This sudden emergence of cable networks and satellite broadcasting rendered the regulation of the transmission and broadcast of television through foreign satellites difficult. The government could not check content before transmissions on satellite TVs.
The government of India understood the importance of cable television and regulation of cable television networks and enacted the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1955.
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Establishment of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act
In the case of Shiv Cable TV System v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court mentioned the necessity of procuring a licence for operating cable networks.
Initially, the district court banned cable networks, as they were distributed without proper licence. Subsequently, the Rajasthan High Court challenged this district court order, stating that it violated the fundamental right to freedom to trade and profession. The High Court issued a statement and mentioned no violation of the right to freedom of trade as cable networks fall within the scope of ‘wireless telegraph apparatus’ under the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act. As per the Act, the Court was obligated to have a licence to operate any cable network.
Shiv Cable TV System v. State of Rajasthan case clarified the fundamental right. It brought the attention of the legislative sector to set up a framework for regulating cable networks in India. So this incident led to the enactment of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995.
The Object of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act
Introducing satellite networks resulted in signals from foreign television networks through satellite communication. The connection with foreign television networks was considered a ‘cultural invasion’, as these foreign channels heavily portrayed Western culture. Therefore, Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act was enacted with the following objectives:
- To lay the responsibilities on cable operators to ensure the quality of service technically and content-wise.
- To protect subscribers from anti-national broadcasts intended to harm our national interests.
- To protect the content registered under copyright law and prohibit the exhibition of uncertified films.
- To discard derogatory content.
Basic Definitions Under the Cable Televisions Network (Regulation) Act, 1995
- Authority is the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) established under sub-section (l) of Section 3 of the TRAI Act, 1997.
- A broadcaster is a person or group of persons, a corporate body, an organisation or anybody that provides programming services, including all its distribution agencies.
- A cable operator is a person who provides, controls, and supervises cable television networks and is responsible for coordinating the operation of cable television networks and fulfils the prescribed eligibility criteria and conditions.
- Cable service is the transmission of cable networks, including re-transmission by cables of any broadcast television signals.
- A cable television network is any system consisting of a set of closed transmission paths, signal generation points, and equipment for control and distribution designed to provide cable service for subscribers.
- Post includes any structure that aspires to carry, distribute, and transmit any network infrastructure facility, including a pole, tower, standard, stay, strut, cabinet, pillar, or anything above the ground that would support establishing a better network connection.
Registration of the Cable Television Network
Section 3 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act provides that no person can operate a cable television network without registration as a cable operator.
Section 4 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act lays down the procedure for registration as a cable operator:
- Section 4(1): Any person who wants to start a job as a cable operator or is operating a cable television network can apply for registration to the registering authority. Previous registration can be renewed.
- Section 4(2): The person applying for the registration must fulfil the eligibility criteria and conditions prescribed by the registering authorities; different eligibility criteria may be defined for applying categories of cable operators.
- Section 4(3): When the Central Government issues a notification under Section 4A, no new registration in a state, city, town or area shall be granted to any cable operator who does not agree to transmit or re-transmit channels in an encrypted form through a digital addressable system.
- Section 4(4): The applicant must fill out an application form and submit the required documents and fees as authorised by the registering authorities.
- Section 4(5): On receiving an application, the registering authority shall check all documents submitted. On satisfying all conditions, the applicant is registered as a cable operator, and he/she is granted a certificate of registration or renewing the registration (as per the applicant’s requirement). The application is also subjected to the terms and conditions prescribed under sub-section (6).
If the applicant does not satisfy the eligibility criteria and does not submit the required documents and fees or for any other reasons recorded in writing by order, the registering authority can refuse registration or renewal.
The applicant can appeal against the order of the registering authority for refusing to grant the certificate of registration or renewal of registration to the Central Government.
- Section 4(6): The Central Government may introduce additional eligibility criteria or conditions without prejudice to the pre-established eligibility criteria for the registration of cable operators to uphold the principles of sovereignty, protect the integrity of India, keep the national borders secure, safeguard friendly relations with foreign states, maintain public order, ensure decency or morality, prevent contempt of court, defamation or provocation of an offence.
- Section 4(7): The Central Government can suspend or cancel or revoke registration granted to the cable operator under sub-section (5) if the operator violates any terms or registration conditions. However, the cable operator shall have the opportunity to be heard; the revocation or suspension cannot be made out without an appropriate rationale.
Offences and Penalties Under the Cable Televisions Network (Regulation) Act, 1995
The contravention of Section 4A shall be a cognisable offence under Section 16 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act.
Section 16 specifies the punishment for the contravention of provisions of the Act and states that if any person contravenes any provision of the Act, then penalty shall include the followings:
- On a first-time offence, the individual shall be imprisoned for a term extending to 2 years or with a fine of up to Rs. 1000 or both.
- On committing the offence multiple times, for every subsequent offence, the person shall be imprisoned for a term extending to 5 years or with a fine extending to Rs. 5000.
Seizure and Confiscation
- If the equipment of the cable operator is found to be not registered as per the provisions of the Act, the Central Government authorised officer is bound to seize equipment. The seized equipment must be retained for at least 10 days unless approved by the District Judge.
- An officer who is duly authorised to seize unregistered equipment of the cable operator can confiscate such properties unless the cable operator (to whom the equipment belongs) registers himself as a cable operator under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act within 30 days starting from the day the equipment was seized.
- A cable operator shall be informed in writing regarding the confiscation of his equipment within 10 days from the date of seizure, or else such equipment shall be returned to the owner after the expiry of the 10-day duration.
Offence by Companies
Section 17 of the Act holds a company liable for an offence committed. When a company commits an offence, every person responsible and present at the time of committing such offence shall be deemed guilty. He/she would be tried and punished accordingly.
If it is proved that the offence committed by the company was conducted under the consent or through secret indulgence or negligence by any manager, director, secretary or other officers of the company, the officer shall also be deemed guilty of the offence and shall be punished according to the law.
Prohibition of Certain Programmes and Cable Network Television
- Section 19 of the Act gives power to authorised officers to pass an order to prohibit any cable operator from transmitting or re-transmitting any programme or channel in public interest if it is not in conformity with the provisions in Sections 5 and 6 or if it promotes a particular religion, race, language, caste, or community.
- Section 20 of the Act empowers the Central Government to prohibit the operation of any cable television network if it thinks it is imperative to do so in the public interest for the sovereignty and integrity of India.
- The Central Government, through notification in the Official Gazette, regulates or prohibits the transmission or re-transmission of any channel or programme.
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act is a regulatory mechanism for India’s media and entertainment industry and limits the haphazard growth of cable TV networks. The Act protects the transmitting and re-transmitting of copyrighted work from getting transmitted or re-transmitted without legal permission.
With content regulation and network registration to the programmes, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act was formulated to protect society from content that may disturb harmony.
How many amendments were made to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act?
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act was amended three times, once in 2003, then in 2011, and finally, in 2021.
When did the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 come into force?
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act was enacted on 29 September 1994 to regulate content broadcasting on cable television.
When was the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2011, introduced?
This Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 28 November 2011 by the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Ms Ambika Soni. It amended the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995.
What is a digital addressable system under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act?
A digital addressable system is a set-up comprising one or more electronic devices in an integrated system through which cables of a cable TV network can be sent in encrypted form and accessed by the subscriber's devices with an activated Conditional Access System.
Which statute regulates the standard of equipment in cable TV networks?
As per Section 9 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986 regulates the standard of equipment or digital addressable system in cable television networks.