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The government believes in self-regulation: JS Mathur

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The government believes in self-regulation: JS Mathur

exchange4media group and Madison Media released the 2016 edition of the Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook Report (PMAR)  in Mumbai. The Chief Guest on the occasion was J.S. Mathur, Special Secretary, Ministry of State for Information & Broadcasting (I&B).

Mathur spoke at length about fostering relations between the media & entertainment industry and the government. He also highlighted the fact that the government has been pro-progress and change, as has been evidenced by many initiatives like the holding of the long pending Phase III auctions of FM radio.

Speaking about the PMAR report, Mathur said, "What struck me about the report was that Sam (Sam Balsara, Chairman of Madison Media) called the current phase boom time, which is very apt. It is actually a boom time for the media and entertainment industry. Who would have thought that the dawn of the era of disruption will also be the dawn of so many opportunities."

He pointed out the emergence of new age mediums like digital along with existing traditional media like print, TV and radio and appreciated the fact that even as, in the west, new media are eroding traditional media; in India, we are seeing a scenario where all media can progress together.

Speaking about what he called a "consumption explosion", Mathur opined that with India experiencing a very stable macroeconomic situation, media consumption is going up and, along with this, the consumption of products and services is also increasing. This is leading to the rise of new services like OTT, on-demand content, etc. He attributed these in some way to the pro-reform government which has led to an optimistic outlook.

To further stress on this, he cited the example of the Phase III FM radio auctions. "The auctions were stuck since 2005 but they finally took place. It was a learning process for all of us. It is also a sign of changing times, and with the first round over, the government is engaging with the industry on how we can proceed further, what are the learnings, what are the things that can be improved upon."

Speaking about digitization, he admitted that many had raised concerns whether the process of digitization would be completed by the December deadline. "This is an era where things (that are planned) have to happen. I am quite sanguine that a lot of planned objectives, like Phase III of digitization will be completed very soon and we can quickly move on to Phase IV," he said.

Further elaborating on the changes in government policy, he noted that in the last 2 years, getting licenses for TV sector, which, he admitted, used to be a frustrating and vexatious process requiring a number of clearances, has been simplified, in keeping with the government's 'ease of doing business' policy.

"There were a lot of things introduced by various sectors which brought the process to a standstill. Now, after a frustrating period, a very pro-active response from other wings of the government has led to number of clearances increasing. Clearances issued are 2x what they were in 2015 and 4x the number in 2014. The latency in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) is down to single figures. Even attendant issues like the movement of files are also being addressed, which is good for us (government officials)," he said.

He further added, "The Ministry (MIB) has had a good discussion on taxation with the Finance Ministry and the results have been very positive. I can see a perceptible change in how work is conducted now. The crux of the matter is that everyone can see and understand."

Speaking about payment issues that the advertising industry was facing when it came to government contracts, Mathur acknowledged that there was a huge payments backlog by various government ministries for ads aired on TV. He, however, said that once the issue was raised, within 7-8 months, many ministries managed to raise the money to pay off these backlogs with only a 10-12 per cent shortfall remaining.

"We took time to change decades old practices but it is now happening," he said.

Mathur also spoke about the contribution the industry can make to create a better ecosystem. One of the things he highlighted was for the industry to determine if it could provide low cost education institutions. Recognizing the fact that content is king, he acknowledged that creators of content needed to be facilitated.

"We, at our end, are absolutely in sync to do a lot more to facilitate the industry. Maybe the industry also needs to see how it can pitch in," he added. Mathur also gave the example of a recent convention for students where the students expressed concerns about career in media and entertainment. He urged the industry to address these concerns.

He also echoed thoughts by the Minister of I&B that taking punitive actions against media organizations is no longer viable and that self regulation and an inner responsibility to maintain quality and ethics was needed and was, indeed, the challenge before the media and entertainment industry.

"The government believes in self-regulation. Rather than getting involved, self regulatory mechanisms (like ASCI) are best and should step in each time. The government will only step in if there are cases of aberrations and even then we will intervene even though we do not want to," he said.

Lastly, Mathur said that though a number of issues were being addressed, he felt that the process was sporadic and asked the industry whether a more holistic viewpoint of all issues facing the media and entertainment industry could be taken.

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