The proposed Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill 2007, which if passed, would be called the Broadcasting Services Regulation Act 2007, has not won too many votes from industry players. One of the first points of the Bill, which is that it would enforce a Content Code that will get into the basics of what can or cannot be shown and when on TV channels, has become a very hotly debated subject among media experts.
Looking at the other facets of the Bill more closely, sub-section 1 of Section 11 of the Bill states that guidelines issued and amended by the Central Government will come into force with this Act, and shall be deemed to have been issued under this Act. There are ten guidelines included here, some of them being FM Radio Policy-Phase 1 of 2000; DTH Policy Guidelines of 2001; Community Radio Policy of 2002; FM Radio Policy-Phase 2 of July 2005; Downlinking Guidelines of November 2005 and Consolidated Uplinking Guidelines of December 2005, amongst others.
Restricting radio, cross-holdings
This brings radio also in the fold of the Bill. It should be noted that Indian FM radio has still not been allowed to broadcast news. However, under Section 4, pertaining to registration of channels and compliance with the Content Code, all TV and radio channels will henceforth be licensed, and they stand to lose their licence if they do not comply with a prescribed Content Code.
This Bill also attempts to contain cross-media proliferation by imposing limits. The government will lay down for all broadcasters, public or private, public service obligations in advertising messages and programmes, and prescribe the percentage of programming which should be Indian in origin.
Sharing sports feeds with DD
Section 7 refers to the mandatory sharing of Sports Broadcasting signals with Prasar Bharti. It states: “…no content rights owner or holder and no television or radio broadcasting service provider shall carry a live or delayed live television broadcast on any cable or Direct-to-Home network or radio commentary broadcast on its Amplitude Modulation (AM) and Frequency Modulation (FM) channels in India of sporting events of national importance, unless it simultaneously offers the same live or delayed live broadcasting signal, without its advertisements, to Prasar Bharati to enable it to re-transmit the same on its terrestrial networks and Direct-to-Home networks in such manner and on such terms and conditions as may be specified.”
This condition has raised strong comments from the industry on whether it is fair for such preference to Prasar Bharati, when the pubcaster is competing with other broadcast entities on revenues.
Section 10, which is on the powers and functions of the Central Government, further states that the Central Government shall have the authority to prescribe a percentage of revenue received by Prasar Bharati under subsection (3) of Section 7, which shall be utilised by Prasar Bharati for broadcasting other sporting events.
According to Section 9, which is on the introduction of digital addressable systems (DASs) in broadcasting network services, the government may make it obligatory for every broadcasting network service provider to transmit or re-transmit content of any or all channels through a DAS.
The Bill also proposes to provide for the establishment of an independent authority to be known as the Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India for the purpose of regulating and facilitating development of broadcasting services in India. There is also the proposition of establishment of Public Service Broadcasting Council.
Giving a broad view, a STAR India spokesperson said, “In the last ten years, the industry has grown from nothing to what it is today without any regulations, or a Bill. Now if we are going to have a Bill, shouldn’t it be able to drive growth rather than restrict it? The proposed Broadcast Regulation Bill has more restrictions in it than growth drivers.”
He elaborated, “Just to mention a few, the industry needs to go digital and that requires a lot of investment, and the clause on cross-holdings will not help the industry progress. Only some may benefit from it, but by and large everyone suffers. How do you justify the preference given to the pubcaster Prasar Bharti -- they are competing for ad revenues with the other channels, why can’t they compete on everything else?”
Agreeing with him, another senior broadcaster observed, “Channels cannot increase tariff on distribution, but they will suffer on advertising with the clauses of compulsory 10 per cent of public service messages and so on. Some other clauses don’t completely make sense – like compulsory 15 per cent local content on channels. How does this work on movie channels and English entertainment channels?”
Giving the radio industry view, Radio City CEO Apurva Purohit observed, “FM radio is perhaps one of the most regulated domains in the Indian media today and we have seen the way this has contained the growth of the sector, and how some amount of deregulation has benefited the sector. If there was any more regulation on radio, the medium would really suffer.”
“There are various points that need to be clear. With legislation like this, there always can be loopholes, but why create the kind of rules that would make people behave in that way?” asked an industry observer.