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Indian broadcasters will ask court to halt new tariff rules - sources

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian broadcasters will on Tuesday ask a court to suspend new government regulations on pay-TV charges they say would put some channels out of business and stifle consumer choice, two sources told Reuters.

(L-R) Punit Misra, CEO of Domestic Broadcast Business of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, K Madhavan, Managing Director of Star and Disney India, Punit Goenka, Managing Director & CEO of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, N.P. Singh, MD & CEO of Sony Pictures Networks India, Uday Shankar, Chairman of Star India, Aroon Purie, Chairman of TV Today Network, Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO of Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd, Megha Tata, Managing Director - South Asia of Discovery Communications India and I.Venkat, Director of Eenadu TV, pose after a news conference in Mumbai, India, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Prashant Waydande

The move came as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) defended its decision to curb excessive pricing by making broadcasters double the amount of channels offered in a certain fixed-price package and cap charges for additional channels, among other steps.

“Many broadcasters have filed a petition. They have grievances against the tariff order. They will ask the court for injunctive relief until it’s fully heard,” a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Broadcasters, including Disney and its TV network Star India, Viacom 18 Media, Sony Corp’s India unit and Zee Entertainment will also tell the Bombay High Court that they cannot meet a Jan. 15 deadline to to notify consumers of new pricing plans, the other source told Reuters.

Tuesday’s court appointment is part of a preliminary hearing, the two sources said.

Disney, Star India, Viacom 18 Media and Sony’s India unit did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Zee Entertainment declined to comment.

TRAI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

TRAI secretary S K Gupta told reporters at a press conference earlier on Monday that he was not aware of any court hearing, but it would likely preclude talks.

“There is no point for deliberations or discussions at this point in time if they choose to move to the court,” Gupta said in New Delhi.

He also stuck by the regulator’s decision, saying the rules were fair.

TRAI chairman R S Sharma told the same press conference that the regulator had not curbed freedom to price the channels.

“I don’t know how people can say that we have strangulated them or we have not given them freedom,” he said.

Most of India’s top broadcast CEO’s took part in a rare joint press conference on Friday to criticise the new regulations, the second such tariff order in less than a year.

“The long term effects of this are going to be extremely destructive. I don’t see a case for the existence of the smaller channels ... most of them will have to shut shop,” Uday Shankar, Star India’s chairman, said on Friday.

Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer; Kirsten Donovan