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Curbs on free speech, price controls impeding innovation in M&E sector: Uday Shankar

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Curbs on free speech, price controls impeding innovation in M&E sector: Uday Shankar

Inconsistent policies and arbitrary curbs on freedom of speech and expression are the two major challenges that have stifled innovation in India’s media and entertainment sector, said Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India.

Delivering the theme address at the inaugural session of the CII Big Picture Summit, Shankar said that a “web of processes, regulations and norms” has stalled India’s economic growth and the future of the country hinges on the ability to embrace new ideas.

“No renewal can happen, either in our economy or in our industry, if we are not brazenly open to new ideas,” Shankar said, adding, “In a hyper competitive global economy, where countries actively nurture promising sectors and constantly renew themselves to attract new investments, we really run the risk of being left behind. Our ability to improve the lives of millions of Indians is firmly tied to our ability to unshackle businesses; in allowing them the space and the imagination to create new products and services.”

The CII Big Picture Summit is a foremost business gathering in the media and entertainment sector that brings the industry and policy makers on a single platform. Over the course of next two-days, the Summit will deliberate on this year’s theme, ‘Embracing Innovation in Media’, and the importance of new ideas in realising the media & entertainment sector’s vision of becoming a $100 billion industry.

A relaxed policy regime in the past has encouraged innovation, facilitated growth and helped the M&E industry create millions of new jobs. From one national broadcaster producing five hours of content daily in 1991, the media & industry sector has today grown to over 800 channels telecasting more than a million hours of original content to 700 million viewers. Similarly, more than 80,000 newspapers are published in India today, most of them in vernacular languages, compared to around 3,000 in 1991, Shankar noted.

“And yet, this spectacular success in serving the Indian consumer and in creating employment has not been met with more reforms and more openness. Successive governments have created a web of policies and regulations which, while they may have had the honourable intent of protecting the consumer, has had exactly the opposite effect,” he said.

Pointing out that even though the M&E industry produces more than a million hours of original content every year, Shankar said that the sector’s inability to charge fairly for the content has severely compromised innovation.

“No policy has done more damage to this industry than that of price controls on television content,” the STAR India CEO said, adding, “Ironically, a regime that was brought to protect the consumer has ended up doing the most damage to consumer choice and quality.”

According to Shankar, efforts to curb free speech in a robust democracy like India is another serious threat to innovation in the M&E industry.

“Even more frightening than price control is the creeping controls on free speech,” he said. “It may have started with opposition to a book, but controls on expression seem to mark new grounds every year. The result is work that is so mundane that it sparks no questions, elicits no debate and pushes no creative boundaries.”

At the same time, Shankar pointed out that a complete absence of regulation isn’t conducive for the industry either, but a consensus on “what to regulate and how much” is desperately needed.

“I do hope that, as we explore new ways to grow our sector, the resounding message from this Summit is that as a sector and as a country, we will remain stubbornly open to new ideas and committed to expanding the spaces for free expression,” he added.

Manish Tewari, Minister for Information & Broadcasting; Ronnie Screwvala, MD, Walt Disney India; and Dr Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, CII shared the dais with Shankar at the inaugural session.


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