On May 26, 2014 Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister of the country. It is almost a year since BJP government has come into power and a multitude of changes have since taken place. The broadcast industry has particularly seen a host of developments. We take a look at some of the key occurrences with reference to the Ministry of Information & Broadcast (MIB) and their impact on the broadcast industry.
Speed is of the essence…
An observable trend is that MIB’s functions and turnaround time seemed to have been fast-tracked. Especially when it comes to granting licenses for channels and MSOs the speed has been accelerated by several times when compared to UPA. A total of 37 new TV channel licenses were issued by the end of 2014, most of which came in the latter half of the year. 26 TV channel licenses were cleared by the NDA government as opposed to 11 new TV licenses cleared by the previous UPA government in 2014. Some of the TV channel licenses which were pending since a year under the UPA government were cleared immediately when the new government was set up. A case in point was the TV channel license of the Hindi channel EPIC which was expected to be launched by the end of 2013 and had to be delayed by a year due to no clearance received from the MIB. As of January 31 to April 9, 2015 two new TV channel licenses have been issued, one news channel and other non-news channel.
This also extended to issuing of MSO licenses which the MIB expedited during the latter half of 2014. The MIB had issued 82 MSO licenses by the end of 2014. This had taken the total to 131 MSO licenses by the end of the year. As of April 10, 2015 that number has increased to 169 MSO licenses which have 10-year licenses under digital addressable system (DAS). While 11 MSO licenses were issued by MIB in April, 16 MSO licenses were cleared in March.
Major policy decisions were taken immediately after the govt’s arrival. One of the first major policy decisions was to extend the deadlines of Phase III and IV of digitization. While the deadline for phase III was extended to December 2015 from the earlier deadline of September 30, 2014, the phase IV deadline was extended to December 2016 from the earlier deadline of December 2014. The decision was taken by former I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar in order to provide more time for the manufacturing of set-top-boxes (STBs) domestically and registration of MSOs in those regions. The domestic production of STBs was in line with PM Modi’s initiative of ‘Make in India’. Apart from this it was to provide incentives to domestic STB manufacturers that the Ministry of Finance on August 13 extended the Central Sales Tax (CST) Act to STBs. This meant that STB manufacturers would be charged 2 per cent CST as against VAT of 12-14 per cent, which they had to pay earlier.
The MIB under the new government has also reconstituted the DAS Task Force for Phase III & IV to include more independent MSOs and LCOs in order to give them more representation. This Task Force has regular meetings in order to expedite the digitization process.
The Ministry also tried to set in motion changes in the 12 ad-cap rule to exempt free-to-air (FTA) channels. However, the matter being pending with the High Court, the final verdict is yet to be delivered.
The ministry has also received an ISO 9001:2008 certification recently from the British Standards Institute with respect to standards maintained in granting various permissions and licenses issued by it for broadcasting, print media and films.
Under Arun Jaitley’s reign
On November 10, 2014 Arun Jaitley took over the reins of I&B Ministry from Prakash Javadekar. The government also appointed Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore as Minister of State for I&B. Jaitley also holds the Ministry of Finance portfolio. While some say the reason for this decision taken by the government in the first cabinet reshuffle was due to ability of faster processing of policies especially since phase III & IV of DAS and phase III of radio auctions requires a lot of coordination between the two ministries. Another reason is because of Jaitley’s good relations with the media.
The processes which were initiated by Javadekar are continuing smoothly in Jaitley’s tenure. Be that as it may, the MIB has received some flak from media in recent times. One of the reasons was the decision of the MIB to issue a ban on the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ by British film maker Leslee Udwin which was to be aired on NDTV. The MIB also received flak from opposition parties in the parliament for the MIB print advertisement issued on Republic Day which had the Preamble to the Constitution without the words “secular” and “socialist”. %he mandatory advertisement had the image of the original preamble which was used instead of the existing one which was amended in 1976 and includes the words “secular” and “socialist”.
Another ban issued by MIB was recently on Al Jazeera for 5 days from April 22 to April 27 stating that the channel had shown a map of India which failed to include certain parts of India within its boundaries. Apart from this, other bans recently include NDTV Good Times and Jai Hind banned for a day earlier in April for broadcasting programmes with obscene content. Gujarat-based TV channel Satlon News TV had been banned for 30 days starting from April 15 for showing a news item that contained nude visuals of a TV actor. TLC, under Discovery, was also banned for a day on April 9 for airing of a show which contained unedited sexual language.
MIB was also criticised for the resignation of CBFC’s Chairman Leela Samson and other board members who were disgruntled by the functioning of the Ministry and the mistreatment reportedly meted out to them.
Extended deadlines for digitization a disappointment
The extension in the deadlines of digitization has been somewhat of a stress point for many TV broadcasters and even TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar who had stated his disappointment over the government’s decision to extend the deadline for phase III & IV of DAS. Some of the TV broadcasters also feel that at the current pace at which digitization is taking place the current deadlines for phase III & IV will be hard to meet.
Apart from this though digitization has come into place for phase I & II many broadcasters feel that revenue system has not gone the same way. Instead the system still seems to be in the analog period. TV broadcasters are still burdened by high carriage fees as they have to pay MSOs for distribution. They feel that the ministry has not done much in this regard; a reason why Star India had taken the RIO initiative in order to deal with MSOs in an incentive revenue system. Thought many broadcasters agreed that the system is good in principle, none of the other broadcasters have yet followed this route.
The TV broadcast industry has definitely made progress since the Modi government has come into place. There are still issues of concern that the industry has which the MIB needs to work on. Freedom of expression in the content produced by broadcasters being one of it, delay in digitization process the other.