Minister of Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni allayed a lot of apprehensions of the news broadcast industry in her opening remarks at the NewsNext 2009, held by the exchange4media Group in Delhi on August 26. Soni touched upon several issues concerning the industry, such as content code, carriage fees, digitisation, entertainment tax, FDI, etc. with a candid openness that touched a chord with the power-packed gathering.
Times Now is the main sponsor of NewsNext 2009. NewsNext provides a platform for the industry to convene and revisit various facets of the Indian television industry with the objective of growing this industry further.
Beginning on a positive note, Soni said, “I am not a person with a closed mind, my mantra has always been interaction and I believe in team work.”
She further said, “The topic of the day, ‘Triumph over Travails’, took me back to the days when we used to race for the newspapers to be the first one to read, as at that time we had all of 2-4 newspapers, which were our source of information. We have come a long way since then.”
Soni continued, “There has been a ‘wish list’ that has been given by various people in the industry like Chintamani Rao of Times Now, Ashish Bagga of India Today and G Krishnan of TV Today, which has been like a road map for me. I am not very net savvy but I am learning. I have put down all the points and issues that need to be addressed, whether it is content regulation, entertainment tax, uplinking, downlinking, DAVP ad rates, which have been far too low. Here I can say with some satisfaction that the DAVP rates have gone up since last October.”
On the content code issue, Soni said, “I don’t see why one cannot come up and talk with a Government that is so liberal. I don’t see why we should approach this with apprehension. We don’t want to have a Draconian act hanging out there that hampers creativity. Yet again, there must be some ground rules that we should all abide by.”
She added, “Another important issue that has kept the TV channels occupied and drained for long has been carriage fees. I am concerned about this issue and I do believe that digitisation is the way to go to curb this issue.”
“We have started the process on HITS and I do hope that before the end of this year HITS should be in process,” Soni said, adding, “As far as multiple taxes are concerned, we have moved far in our talks, but have not been able to address all of them. Fringe benefit tax has been removed in this year’s Budget, but I don’t know to what extent its exemption has helped. GST will be in place by next year. Also, I am trying to bring down 10 per cent GST to 6 per cent, as suggested by some of you here,” she added.
The Minister further stressed, “The I&B Ministry is not only about content regulation and DAVP ad rates. We also look after films and Akashwani. We are almost ready with the Phase III of FM radio. We also look after print by trying to create a level playing field to all players so that newspapers can remain a healthy source of information.”
Soni concluded by mentioning her own wish list which was to accelerate the pace of dialogue with the broadcasters and decide on a road map for the way forward. She further noted that news channels also had some social obligations. “All news channels today are 24x7, which means 168 hours a week of programming. I would request you all if even a mere 5 per cent of that time could be devoted to stories on human triumph over adversities, of the resurgence spirit of the young, and the never say die attitude,” she concluded.