Raising their concern over the discriminatory and restrictive provisions in the Broadcast Bill, panelists at the Assocham Conference on the Broadcast Bill held in the Capital recently called for an industry-friendly Bill, which is futuristic and addresses its concerns.
Chintamani Rao, CEO, India TV, raised the point that broadcast industry was being discriminated against vis-à-vis the print media. “While service tax has been imposed on TV advertisements, print has been kept out of the net. Surrogate advertisements have been banned on TV not, but not on print.”
Welcoming the broadcast legislation and regulation in principle, Rao said, “It is in the interest of the public and the industry.” He, however, stressed on the need for an independent regulator in the lines of CAG, the Election Commission, SEBI, TRAI, etc. “A broadcast regulator controlled by the government is completely unacceptable,” he said.
On the crucial issue of restrictions on ownership, Rao said, “Dominance is not the issue in the broadcast industry, abuse of dominance is the issue. There are the Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practice (MRTP) Act and the Competition Bill to take care of such abuses. So, there is no need for the Ministry to impose double restrictions on the broadcast industry alone.”
Rao also criticised the search and seizure clause in the Bill, which allows authorities to stop operation of channels and seize TV channels. “This could be dangerous as somebody can take action just on the basis of suspicion of an offence,” Rao cautioned.
He also asked the government to clarify on the ‘public service broadcasting obligation’ clause as to why a news channel telecasting programmes for greater public cause not be included under the same.
Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal termed the Bill as ‘an attempt to regulate content and carriage of broadcasting.’ According to him, “The Bill only addresses cable and broadcasting issues and does not take care of the digital broadcasting issues, which is a major concern.” Duggal also highlighted the conflicting nature of the Bill with the IT Act, 2000 as both are special laws and are overriding. He asked the government to do a balancing act as far as sharing live sports feed with the public broadcaster, and adult and non-adult content is concerned.
Holding a different point of view, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairperson Sharmila Tagore said that self-regulation had not helped public interest but only self-interest of channels. Giving examples of the irresponsible attitude of news channels in the past, Tagore said, “Televison is reaching 112 million homes now. So we need some sort of regulation. Those who are criticising the government for the Broadcast Bill are not giving any alternative for the same.”
Presiding over the panel on cross-media restriction, Anuradha Prasad of BAG Films, said, “If we are bringing a legislation after 10 years, we should make it 10 years ahead of time. Putting cross-media ownership restrictions will be detrimental for the industry. The government should consider the broadcast industry as a knowledge industry.”
KVL Narayan Rao, Director, NDTV, said, “The broadcast industry is now heavily capital-intensive, so it is difficult to alter the investments that has already been made. One has to take into account the history of broadcast industry in India and form regulations accordingly.” He also called for defining public service broadcasting.
Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), objected to the withdrawal of the Bill ‘under pressure from the media barons’. “Stringent measures already exist for cable operators under the Cable Services Act. Nobody termed it draconian when it was passed. Now that broadcasters are made responsible for what they do, everybody is making a hue and cry.”
Supporting the cross-media restrictions clause, Sharma said, “The restriction should be there or else the broadcasters will rule the country and the public will have to see whatever they show.”
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