ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Broadcasting : Two Cheers for DTH

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The decision to allow open (KU-band) direct-to-home (DTH) transmission, following the recommendations of the group of ministers set up in January this year, appears more in the nature of correcting a mistake than of any import on its own. In 1997 the United Front government had banned the sale or use of hardware capable of receiving satellite signals over 4,800Mhz, which accommodate KU-band signals, citing the implications for “national security, cultural influence, moral and social values” since viewers would be reached without going through a monitoring intermediary. This virtually forced Rupert Murdoch’s STAR TV to freeze its reported $300 mn investment in leasing a transponder on the PAS-4 satellite for beaming KU-band services. (The company even took the Indian government to court, with no success.) At that time the ministry had contended that DTH services would be allowed only after the Broadcasting Bill defining the parameters of transmission had been finalised. In the three years that have elapsed, technological developments now offer other alternatives to DTH. Moreover, the cumulative experience of DTH in many countries – in Asia and Europe including the UK – has thrown up many new issues.

In hindsight the reasons that prompted the UF government to ban DTH, then a new technology of transmission in its infancy all over the world, are also the ones that have prompted a variety of control mechanisms all over Asia. For instance, across Asia while some countries like Singapore have yet to allow DTH broadcasting, others have in place various other regulatory regimes – on the nature of services, on foreign ownership, etc. In China there is total state-ownership, in Hong Kong foreign control may not exceed 49 per cent, in South Korea for programmers the foreign investment limit is 15 per cent. Content regulation has remained an important factor in the development of DTH. In 1975 the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union formulated and adopted guidelines for Translation Satellite Broadcasting in the region which call on broadcasters to be sensitive to the diversity of values and cultures of the region and to respect sovereignty, national security and “social, political, cultural and traditional values”. Beyond this, most countries have other programme regulations: Hong Kong has restrictions on children’s programmes and family-viewing material, in Malaysia there is censorship by the service operator. A paper reviewing satellite broadcasting in Asia presented at the International Bar Association Conference in 1997 pointed out that, contradicting early fears, the spread of DTH had grown, incorporating the diversity of the region, with operators targeting particular programmes for different countries.

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