Cable operators in Andhra Pradesh have been ordered to restore popular news channel TV5 on their networks by Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Wednesday. While private cable networks have been ordered to restore TV5 on to their network within 24 hours, the government-operated Fibernet has been directed to resume the channel’s services within two days.
Meanwhile, ABN Andhra Jyothi executives say their channel, which also went off air in the state, is yet to return to the cable networks. ABN Andhra Jyothi executives, however, are yet to approach the tribunal, alleging that they have little faith in the government to restore the channel.
This comes after cable operators in the state took off air two popular news channels TV5 and ABN from the second week of September allegedly on the insistence of the YSRCP government in the state. TV5 approached the TDSAT to get their service resumed in what they termed an unofficial ban for airing news that showed the government in poor light.
Wednesday’s orders were based on two petitions filed by Shreya Broadcasting Private Limited that owns TV5 news channel against private cable networks ACN Digital Cable Networks and Act Digital Home Entertainment Private Limited and another against the government’s Andhra Pradesh State Fibernet Limited.
TDAT that adjudicate disputes and dispose of appeals in the telecom sector observed that no disconnection notice was issued to the viewers before disconnecting the petitioner's (TV5) news channel from the network. As per clause 17 of the Interconnection Regulations, 2017, cable operators are to give a 21-day notice to the viewers for discontinuing any channel.
Observing that ACN Digital Cable Networks and Act Digital Home Entertainment Private Limited did not give a discontinuation notice, it directed the two private cable networks to restore TV5 on its network within 24 hours.
The counsel for the state government’s Fibernet Limited, however, argued that no notice could be given due to a technical defect in its system, leading to disconnection of four channels, TV5 being one of them. The counsel claimed some technical components had gone defective that needs to be imported and would require another 10 days to rectify.
The lawyer for TV5, however, countered stating they were not notified about the technical defect in the system and were only informed verbally.
Refusing to grant Fibernet ten days’ time, the tribunal stated, “Since we are not satisfied that the defect should linger for 10 more days affecting the petitioner’s news channel for such a long period, we direct the respondent to take all the necessary steps on emergent basis to restore the channel of the petitioner on-air as it existed earlier within two days from today (September 18). If this is not complied, then the respondent will immediately explain the reason as to why it could not be done by filing an affidavit to that effect which shall be considered as soon as it is filed," reads the order.
TV5 executives say as of on Friday only 40% of their network has been restored in the state. TV5 news channel was taken off air on September 10.
In their statement to TNM, TV5 said, "We expect the cable operators to reinstate channel as per TDSAT the orders and hope they will follow it."
Meanwhile, a senior executive with ABN Andhra Jyothi told TNM that their channel is yet to approach TDSAT, alleging, "We are still off air, we are protesting and using all means to get the channel restored. The government also has to yield to the order else they will get a bad name. The cable operators are not the problem, they are willing to restore the channel."
Representatives from ABN Andhra Jyothi and TV5 had earlier told TNM that the cable operators have stopped airing their news channels as per instructions from the ruling YSRCP in the state.
A representative of TV5, on the condition of anonymity, had named three ministers with the Andhra Pradesh cabinet who allegedly instructed the cable operators to drop the two news channels. The channels accuse ministers, Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy (Panchayat Raj Minister), Perni Venkataramaiah Nani (Minister of Transport and I&PR) and Kodali Sri Venkateswara Rao also known as Kodali Nani (Minister for Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs), as the ones who instructed cable operators to drop the two channels at a meeting with them.
“They held a meeting with the cable operators last week and told them to shut down the channels from their networks, there is no basis to this instruction. When the operators said they cannot shut down a channel as it was against the rules, they were threatened with taxes. The channels have been down for a couple of days in most of Andhra Pradesh. This is a war on media,” alleged the source.