The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Matters of state can wait

New Delhi, July 2: Peter Mukerjea and Sameer Nair of STAR, Manu Sawhney of ESPN STAR Sports, Kunal Dasgupta of Sony Entertainment Television and Deepak Shourie of Discovery troop into the Prime Minister’s Office this afternoon on a hot summer’s day.

They meet Sudheendra Kulkarni, adviser to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, the principal secretary, and sundry other officials.

The broadcasters troop out after an hour’s meeting only to return later in the day. They go through the routine again. In between, officials in the PMO spend hours discussing the conditional access system (CAS) with cable operators from Mumbai.

The idiot box occupies so much of the government’s mindspace today that power flows through the cables laid by operators and television signals beamed by broadcasters.

For more than a month, the Union information and broadcasting minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, I&B secretary Pawan Chopra, officials in the PMO and the Prime Minister himself, between trips to Europe and to China, have been meeting cable television broadcasters, operators and multi-system operators.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee has summoned Prasad and his officials twice over the last month or so to discuss CAS for cable television. Meetings have been held with broadcasters and cable operators at his residence on 7 Race Course Road and in his office in South Block.

In the corridors of the I&B ministry in Shastri Bhavan, cable operators and broadcasters, set-top box manufacturers and multi-system operators meet the secretary, then the joint secretary, then the additional secretary, then the minister.

In Mumbai, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray whispers against CAS and the I&B minister and Kulkarni fly down to placate him. In Delhi, Madan Lal Khurana is miffed about CAS and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu go into huddle after huddle to thrash out the nitty gritty of implementing CAS.

Some of the most important people entrusted with running the country have spent as much — if not more — time and energy on a simple thing like administering a new cable television regime as on discussing whether troops should be sent to Iraq or the Sankaracharya’s Ayodhya formula.

Lest it be forgotten, CAS, to be implemented from July 15, is mandated only for four metros in the first phase. It is expected to impact only pay channels. In a country of 100 crore, CAS will debut in areas covering 60 lakh television homes, of which — the most optimistic industry estimates say — 20 per cent (12 lakh) will opt for set-top boxes in a year.


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