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Jaya govt to nationalise cable TV network

The Jayalalithaa government on Friday channeled a message to the DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran and his family -- the Sun is likely to set on your cable TV monopoly in Tamil Nadu.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2011 19:26 IST
KV Lakshmana

The Jayalalithaa government on Friday channeled a message to the DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran and his family -- the Sun is likely to set on your cable TV monopoly in Tamil Nadu.

Channeling the message through governor's address to the newly constituted state assembly, the AIADMK supremo made her intentions very clear -- hurt the cable TV distribution business interests to begin with.

Never mind she failed once, like the proverbial King Bruce and the Spider, Jayalalithaa seemed determined to further weaken her opponent DMK by attacking the media empire of her opponents -- Sun TV Network owned by the Maran family -- by getting governor Surjit Singh Barnala to announce the nationalisation of private cable TV operations monopolised by Sumangali Cable Vision, a subsidiary of the Maran media company and also revive state-owned Arasu Cable Corporation.

Barnala, as governor, had refused to give assent to a similar move to nationalise cable TV operations that the previous Jayalalithaa government pushed through in the legislature through a Bill in 2006, saying jursidictiton over the matter rested with the central government. While there can be no dispute with a move to revive a dysfunctional government company but a move to nationalise a business operation could be open for challenge in a court of law, said a top lawyer N Vijayaraghavan who handles media related cases in the High Court on the grounds that it was out of a legislature's ambit and one that infringed the rights of freedom and expression of the company.

But on Friday, governor Barnala outlining the policies of AIADMK government in his customary opening address to the state assembly said "there was an overwhelming demand from the public for revival of Arasu Cable Corporation" and announced that "the government will do so in public interest."

Incidentally, the Arasu Cable Corporation was started by the Karunanidhi government in 2008 when the Maran family ran foul with him to hit at their television business and then left the state-run media firm in a lurch after Dayanidhi Maran made up with the patriarch and wormed his way back into the union cabinet. The Karunanidhi government also hounded an upright IAS official, C. Umashankar who headed ACC for his call for nationalising cable TV operations. Eventually, the DMK government had to drop the false caste certificate case lodged against the IAS official and his revoke his suspension.

In Tamil Nadu, politics is closely intertwined with media -- films, newspaper and television channels -- with each regional party owning and operating a television channel of its own to further its own political and business interests. If the DMK was served by the Maran family owned Sun TV Network, the AIADMK has Jaya TV, film star turned politician Vijayakant has a faithful Captain TV doing the needful on his behalf.

Those in the cable operation business are in no doubt that the Jayalalithaa government move was targeting Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV), a subsidiary of Sun TV Network, and as the largest Multi System Operater, which receives and distributes cable signals to cable operators for a fee, has a stranglehold over cable distribution business in the state. According to industry sources, out of a Rs 1400 crore annual cable subscription revenue in the state, Rs 900 crore went to the DMK backed SCV. More important, the Sun TV Network cornered nearly 90 % of the Rs 2300 crore advertising revenue.

The Jayalalithaa government move is aimed at hurting the DMK where it hurts most -- in this case the Marans -- their business prospects. According to an industry source, once Arasu Cable Corporation gets active again in cable signal distribution and at the same time slashing the cable TV rates to one third of present rates, the SCV domination as well as profitability will take a hit.

This would mean a huge benefit to the 12 million cable TV consumers in the state. "However, the government move will not affect the small cable operators," governor Barnala said in his address in which he described the move as one that the people across the state were demanding.

Jayalalithaa never failed to mention the high cable rates during her campaigning and she has promised to nationalise cable tv operations once she came to power. On the strength of political power and muscle power, the Sun TV Newtork built up a stranglehold over the business, so much so that even established national television news channels had to bow to SCV if their programmes were to be shown in Tamil Nadu.

In fact a new Tamil Channel with national ambitions checked its plan to launch the channel before the elections, preferring to wait and watch for better times to come, and is now finalising a launch date. Dummy runs are being staged in this new channel being readied by SRM group, well known for its higher technical educational institutions.