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HomeArticles‘Magic Box’ Menace in Pakistan Pak’s SC wants total elimination of Indian DTH grey market
Monday, 10 December 2018 12:52

‘Magic Box’ Menace in Pakistan Pak’s SC wants total elimination of Indian DTH grey market

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On 25 October 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court constituted committee comprising 2 members from Customs and an additional director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe and take necessary steps to check the menace of illegal sale of Indian Direct to Home (DTH) technology boxes in the country’s lucrative black market.

The three-member bench is headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar. The committee was asked to submit its reply by 4-7 November 2018. The apex court ordered the member Customs to also identify the source of smuggling of the DTH in country’s lucrative grey markets. The CJ commented that the country is bleeding its money due to smuggling of Indian DTH boxes, popularly known as ‘Magic Boxes’ used to illegally beam Indian content in Pakistan.

 The apex court had imposed a ban on the transmission of Indian content on local television channels, setting aside an earlier verdict by the Lahore High Court (LHC). The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar gave his verdict on the petition of the United Producers Association.

Nisar said: "Indians are trying to obstruct the construction of our dam and we cannot even ban their channels?" 

Some experts say that the steps by Pakistan a 'tit-for-tat' move after similar actions were taken by some channels and the entertainment industry in India against Pakistani content and artists.

The SC’s words had an effect as just four days later on 29 October 2018 over 75 people were arrested for possessing 'illegal' DTH devices in Pakistan. These people were mostly from the Punjab province and were apprehended after the Pakistani authorities launched a nation-wide operation against illegal DTH markets. The  crackdown was launched by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) along with Customs and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).  

FIA Punjab spokesperson Altaf Gohar Wattoo said: "During the last four days (26-29 Oct), the FIA arrested more than 50 suspects in Punjab alone and recovered illegal devices from them. The remaining suspects have been arrested from other provinces, and during this crackdown a large number of illegal equipment has been seized including 1,853 Satellite Receivers, 7,387 Low-Noise Block down converter (LNB) and 5,840 Dishes.”

Wattoo added that a massive amount of money was being laundered to India in connection with the DTH business. "We will continue the crackdown till complete elimination of this illegal business in the country."

Also, the authorities had registered cases against the business owners and other suspects under the PEMRA Ordinance, Anti-Money Laundering Act, Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, Customs Act and the relevant sections of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Muhammad Saleem Baig, Chairman, Pakistan Electronic Media Regualtoray Authority (PEMRA) has also asked the authorities to exercise zero tolerance against Indian DTH and Indian content as per order of the Supreme Court. He also appreciated the efforts of PEMRA Field Staff and stressed upon to make this drive more vibrant and effective.

He directed his field staff to continue an effective enforcement drive against illegal Indian DTH, C-Line and Android Boxes and a complete crackdown against its sales and associated activities.

Mohammad Saleem Baig, Chairman PEMRA said that illegal proliferation of Indian DTH is not only detrimental to their social, cultural and religious values but also causing huge financial loss to Pakistan’s exchequer. While meeting local cable operators in Karachi, Baig asked them to strictly comply with the orders of Supreme Court of Pakistan and asked them to operate within the legal ambit, as any illegal activity will be responded by strict action.

Committee’s observations & recommendations: 

The seized equipment from Oct 29 to Nov 5 2018 was worth ` 7.83 crore, as per report submitted by the constituted committee before the Supreme Court on 7 November 2018. The report also informed the top court that nearly 30 FIRs were filed since the SC constituted the committee. 

The committee said in its report that absence of local DTH platforms in Pakistan is also a concern and forces people to go black ways. The report added that PEMRA has also suggested a technological solution which can effectively disrupt the reception and rebroadcast of Indian content using smuggled DTH equipment or those imported through regular channels after modifications by the local vendors.

In the last, the report recommended that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority must support in blocking the internet protocols addresses of the websites which were either running the illegal C-Line/CC-CAM or advertising the illegal Indian DTH in the country.

The habit is long & its die hard scenario:

This is not the first time that Pakistan authorities are ganging up against illegal DTH sale. A few years ago too, the authorities wanted to root out the entire ecosystem which had evolved to help foster the habit of subscribers there being fed with Indian content illegally. It’s like a habit of smoking which is hard to go, and even if smoking gets banned, supply exists because demand exists.

The ecosystem is basically based on illegal direct-to-home (DTH) subscriptions and depends on the hawala system to ensure payments made in Pakistan are received in India. Tracking this way of subscription is near impossible.

As per technical experts, geographical proximity makes it impossible to stop the signal from being downloaded in Pakistan.

Experts aware of the entire ecosystem say that the process works through a well-connected set of ‘dealers’ in both countries who place orders and even service requests on occasion through email and Skype. They add that subscribers in Pakistani pay locally in cash and the money is transferred to the Indian counterpart through the hawala network.

As per rough estimates, 80% households in Pakistan have Indian DTH connections and top platforms like Dish TV, Videocon DTH and Tata Sky are easily made available in Pakistan. The boxes are smuggled in large quantities through the Afghanistan border. Also, with the sale of HD and 4K television sets rising, there is increasing demand for high-definition (HD) broadcasts, which is made available through Indian DTH services. 

The elimination of illegal DTH reception in Pakistan will also impact the revenues of Indian DTH players who will lose more than 5 million subscribers in Pakistan.

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