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Supreme Court starts hearing on plea challenging new TRAI amendments related to MRP of individual channels

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued hearing on a petition challenging the new amendments proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which put a cap on the MRP of individual channels.

The bench of Chief Justice of India N. V. Ramana and Justice Surya Kant took up the plea of Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) against the Bombay High Court verdict, which had upheld the constitutionality of the amended New Tariff Order (NTO 2.0) passed by TRAI.

Earlier on August 6, the apex court had posted the matter for August 18.

On June 30, the Bombay High Court had upheld the TRAI’s amendments to the New Tariff Order that outlines how TV channels should be priced, which the regulator issued in January, 2020.

The Bombay High Court‘s observation that broadcasters have a right to freedom of speech and expression, but it is not absolute, infringes on their fundamental right to freedom of speech, the petitioners said.

IBF, a unified representative body of television broadcasters in India, had moved the Bombay high Court against TRAI’s amended new tariff order (NTO), soon after it came out in January, 2020. Meanwhile, the telecom regulator had filed caveats in all major high courts against issuing a stay without hearing what it has to say in the matter. The

Broadcasters that had come together under the IBF umbrella to take on TRAI included Star India, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd and Sony Pictures Networks.

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According to the new tariff order, consumers can choose the TV channels they want to watch and pay only for them at maximum retail prices (MRPs) set by broadcasters, instead of the pre-set bouquets offered earlier. The new tariff order was expected to make channels cheaper for the consumer and offer more choice. However, on ground, the opposite happened as the cost of like-to-like channel options went up.

To bring down the cost of entertainment for the end consumer, the TRAI had announced amendments to the NTO on January 1, 2020. As part of the new amendments, TRAI reduced the cap on the MRP of individual channels, which can form part of any bouquet to Rs 12 from Rs 19 per month, which the IBF said had not been backed by any logical rationale or consumer insight. The regulator also sought to impose twin conditions for bouquet formation, effectively introducing a cap on bouquet pricing, which broadcasters felt would limit the number of channels in the bouquet and reduce the value delivered to consumers.

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