Sending in its comments on the proposed Broadcast Bill, Indian Media Group (IMG) has asked the I&B Ministry to allow Indian media houses to become powerful multinationals instead of putting restrictions in terms of cross-media holdings, which could be counter-productive.
The proposed Bill provides for restrictions in acquiring of ownership or holding shares, both across the media and in distribution sectors like cable, DTH, etc. While IMG expressed its openness to accept any overall cap at the macro level, it held that the same at the micro level would cause genuine hardships for the players.
Giving a glimpse of the ambition of the Indian media industry, IMG held, “If we look at world trends, we find that there is a tendency not only for the technologies to merge but also large companies in different areas of the media, either print or electronic, to come together. Time Warner is a case in point. Why should we prevent such developments from taking place in India? We should think of Indian companies becoming multinationals and powerful media companies. But putting such restrictions on cross holdings we are permanently creating a battalion of pygmies in the media and losing an opportunity to develop strong India media MNCs.”
“The broadcasting sector in India is still at a nascent stage and has not reached such a level so as to warrant the stipulation of ownership restrictions,” the Group further said. It also contested the rationality of restricting the number of channels, terming it as unfair.
IMG, which represents domestic broadcasters as well, asked the Ministry to exclude news and current affairs channels from the public service broadcasting obligations as they qualify to be called public service broadcasters by definition.
The Bill defines public service broadcaster as “any entity whose primary objective is to provide broadcasting content to the public that is socially and culturally relevant and in public interest and welfare.”
IMG felt that by this definition, all news and current affairs channels fulfilled the relevant criteria as they also provided the content in the form of news, knowledge, information, education, etc. to the public that was socially and culturally relevant and in public welfare, and hence they be exempted from any separate obligation of public service broadcasting.
For other broadcasters, it has suggested that the obligation to carry socially relevant programmes for up to 10 per cent of the commercial time may be left at the discretion of the channels with the additional choice to the channels to fulfill this requirement either as part of its commercial time or as part of its programming content. However, IMG welcomed the provision of localised content in the programmes of the channels.
IMG contested the provision to keep public broadcaster Prasar Bharati out of the purview clout of the Bill, and said that DD was a public broadcaster as it competed with the private channels for advertisements.
The body asked to grant license to the broadcasters for at least five years instead of only one year as proposed in the Bill. It also asked that the new modes of broadcasting, viz IPTV and HITS (Headend In The Sky) be brought under the definition of the broadcasting network service.
Without opposing the very provision of mandatory sharing of sports broadcast signals with Prasar Bharati, IMG asked for definitive commercial arrangement with the right holder. Welcoming the idea of a broadcast regulator like BRAI, IMG asked for an independent and autonomous regulator instead of a government puppet.