Private TV channels in Sri Lanka fear that they will be hit hard by the new levies on imported films and television serials, which were announced on Thursday.
Most private channels depend heavily on imported Tamil and Hindi films and TV serials. Some are shown as they are and others are either dubbed or sub-titled.
Many of the locally made Sinhala Tele-serials and films are well made and are popular.
But on the whole, they do not match the ones coming from India, which are more dramatic, colourful and action-filled.
The Indian product has a mass audience cutting across classes and regions. They also generate a decent revenue from advertisements.
"Most private channels work on a show string budget. They will be heavily burdened financially if they are made to pay Sri Lankan Rupees (SLRs) 90,000 for every 30 minutes for a dubbed foreign film or Tele-drama, and SLRs 75,000 for others," said Shan Wickremesinghe, the head of the channel TNL.
Channels would have to hike their advertising rates, and this could adversely affect revenue, especially in the context of the island's economy being threatened by a resumption of war.
Switching over to Sinhala Tele serials would not be cheaper because Sinhala serials were more expensive than imported Indian serials, Wickremesinghe told Hindustan Times.
Exemption for Tamil
Since there is no local production of Tamil films or Tele-dramas, the new levy exempts non-dubbed Tamil films imported from India.
Deputy Minister of Finance, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, has said that this exemption is being given to safeguard the interest of the Tamil community.
Tamil films and Tele dramas dubbed into Sinhala are popular, and have been a cultural bridge between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalas in Sri Lanka.
And any cut in the number of such Tamil films and Tele-Dramas shown on TV may adversely affect inter-ethnic understanding, some fear.
While the rich would be able to see their favourite English and Hindi pictures on CDs and DVDs at home, the poor and the lower middle classes, who depend on the dubbed versions shown on TV, would have no way of seeing them if the private TV channels cut down on foreign films.
TNL chief Shan Wickremesinghe charged that the government had taken this step to enable some leading Sri Lankan TV and film personalities who were planning to set up their own production centres.
The Sri Lankan government has justified its action saying that it needs to nurture the local film and TV media and also protect Sri Lankan culture from Indian cultural influences.
According to the Secretary of the Media Ministry, WB Gonegala, the new levy would be re-channeled to a trust for the development of indigenous cinema, Tele-drama and advertising.
Failure of Pakistani experiment
But whether such a step will actually help the local industry is open to question if the Pakistani experience is anything to go by.
Pakistan ad banned Indian films decades ago for very much the same reasons as the Sri Lankan have imposed restrictions now.
But instead of helping the local industry, the Pakistani ban only led to the large-scale closure of cinema houses and a thriving trade in smuggled CDs and DVDs.
The number of theatres has come down from 1,500 to 211. Islamabad, the capital, had two theatres, but both closed last year.
While the common folk in Pakistan are deprived of entertainment by the closure of the theatres, the rich have remained unaffected. Cable TV in the posh apartments show Hindi and other foreign films.
Pakistani Tele Dramas, which were doing well at one stage, have also failed to retain the loyalty of the Pakistani viewer.
Pakistani film theatre owners have been demanding a lifting of the ban on Indian films. But the government continues to be against it.
Finance is the main hurdle for Pakistani film producers. They cannot spend the way the Indian producers do, where millions are spent on a single song and dance scene.
Sri Lankan film producers face the same problem. They too work on shoe-string budgets.