India Clamps Down on Vice, Piracy


New Delhi, India-Sex, alcohol and video piracy all received a slam from the Indian government last week as it cracked down on some television-industry practices.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting banned alcohol, cigarette and tobacco ads from broadcast and pay television in a recent amendment to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Rules of 1994.

The amendment also allowed for cable operators transmitting pirated cassettes of feature films can be prosecuted by either a district magistrate or a police commission. In the past, legal proceedings against pirates have dragged on for years.

The ministry also banned the screening of adult programming, which had earlier been permitted between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Announcing these changes at a recent press conference, Information and Broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley said he hoped they would boost the film industry and bring more revenue to the government in the form of an entertainment tax.

The move to end video piracy was welcomed by cable operators and networks alike.

"We have been forking out substantial amounts for our movie rights," Sony Entertainment Network vice president of marketing services Pat Vinayak said. "The value of these films would get marginalized, because cable operators would show them illegally. Now we hope to get more value for what we show."

Executives of satellite-delivered networks feel differently about the alcohol ban. Sony and Zee Telefilms Ltd. each earned around 120 million rupees ($2.6 million) from liquor ads in 1999, executives at the programmers said.

Star TV pulled in about 150 million rupees ($3.3 million) from alcohol ads in 1999, according to company officials. The figure represented about 8 percent of Star's total ad revenues. In all, satellite channels earned 600 million rupees ($13.04 million) from liquor ads last year, according to industry estimates.

Discovery Channel CEO Kiran Karnik said the government was not justified in taking such an extreme step.

"Networks and cable operators had agreed to a self-regulatory code that was being followed by all the satellite channels," he said. "What was the need for the government to force a ban?"

Cable operators are livid about the ban, because if networks don't comply, the systems are the parties liable for prosecution.

"It is a ridiculous piece of legislation," said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India. "We are presently telecasting a minimum of 65 channels. How are we expected to monitor the content of each of these channels?"