Taking forward the debate regarding the proposed Broadcast Bill, speakers raised concerns ranging from questioning the need for a broadcast regulator to the conflict of the IT Act with the Broadcast Bill at a roundtable discussion organised by the Centre for Media Studies in the Capital on Thursday.
Bhaskar Rao, Chairman, CMS, began the discussion saying, “This is the third time in the past 10 years that we are having a discussion regarding the Broadcast Bill. And though I have long advocated a bill that governs the industry, I feel that we from the media industry should propose a bill to the government, rather than the other way round.”
Kiran Karnik, President, Nasscom, advocated the idea of independent parties issuing the license rather than the authority being given to the Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI). On the must-carry provision of the local content for every channel in the Draft Bill, he said, “It is true that other countries have such a provision, but with the kind of cultural moorings we have, there is no need for such a clause. Also, if there is a channel for German expats, it would be unreasonable to ask them to beam our local content.”
“The industry definitely needs a regulator, but it should be an independent regulator,” Karnik said. He contended that the foundation of BRAI was structurally wrong as the chairperson would be appointed by the Central Government. Also, he pointed out that the must-carry requirement of the Doordarshan channels on the prime band implied that the channel was contesting with commercial channels.
Pradip Baijal, former chairman of TRAI, said, “There are four sectors in the country that have made India proud – IT, telecom, broadcast channels and cable. The last two have flourished because of the absence of the government. On the other hand, the establishment of TRAI resulted in 5 per cent growth in the telecom sector. What needs to be looked at is whether we need a broadcast regulator as there are a plethora of bodies, such as TDSAT under TRAI and various others that look at various broadcast issues already.”
Speaking on the occasion, Bhaskar Ghose, CEO, Lok Sabha TV, and the former I&B Secretary, said, “I welcome the Bill to the extent that it proposes a broadcast regulator. But this kind of a Bill won’t work in its present form and will be struck down by any court of law.”
Criticising the Bill for its provisions to censor TV channels, Ghose said, “It is a colonial hangover” and advised the government to come out of it.
Jawahar Goel, Additional Vice-Chairman of Zee, pointed out the difference in functioning of TRAI and BRAI. “TRAI is one of the most transparent organisations around. At every proposal, industry players are consulted, while in case of the Broadcast Bill, there was no consultation before the Bill was drafted. What makes TRAI a responsible organisation is that they address the complaints. But, the proposed BRAI does not even have a redressal cell,” he pointed out.
Sahara TV’s Mahesh Prasad felt that the Broadcast Bill was too detailed. He pointed out the specific clauses of the Draft Bill, contesting sections such as BRAI’s power of canceling licenses; compulsory carriage provision; sharing of sports feed with DD; restriction on accumulation of interest; cross-holding restrictions, etc. According to him, the proposed Bill aimed only at regulating content and not carriage.
Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal made a presentation on the grey areas of the Bill, which include non-addressal of the convergence quotient and conflicting nature of Sec 81 of the IT Act, 2001, and Sec 44 of Broadcast Bill as both are special power Acts.
Trying to hold the turf, I&B Secretary S K Arora, in reply to Duggal’s presentation, said, “The proposed Broadcast Bill deals with the traditional broadcast industry. About the issue of convergence, there is the IT Act to cover IT sector, Telegraph Act and Telecom law to cover the telecom sector, and the I&B Ministry will look at the broadcast.”
While Arora accepted the fact that there were two contravening sections, Sec 4 that deals with logo and trademarks, and Sec 44, he assured, “Different ministries are looking at the draft with a magnifying glass. Whatever may be the contentious issues, they will be worked on with due diligence.” In the same vein, he added, “The law will happen, but after consultation with various ministries and industry bodies.”