Following the alarm raised by the media and the sharp reaction of the broadcast industry to some of the ‘draconian’ clauses of the proposed Broadcast Bill, the I&B Ministry seems to have softened its stand and has deleted some of the controversial clauses from the proposed Bill that it has put on its website for further consultation.
One of the clauses in the Broadcast Bill that had earned it the ‘draconian’ tag was Section 5(1), which now stands deleted. The clause had said, “In the event of war or a natural calamity of national magnitude, the Central government may, in public interest, take over the control and management of any of the broadcasting or any facility connected therewith, suspend its operation or entrust the public service broadcaster to manage it in the manner directed by the government for such period as it deems fit and the service provider shall immediately comply with all or any such directions.” Not only in a Kargil-like situation, but an overprotective government could have used the clause in a Tsunami-like situation to put curbs on sections of the media.
Another provision which was severely criticised by the broadcast industry was that “No broadcasting network service provider shall have more than the prescribed share of the total number of consumers / subscribers in a city or a state subject to the overall ceiling of 15 per cent for the whole country.” This also does not find any mention in the new proposed Bill. It could have resulted in restriction on the maximum number of channels that can be owned by a media group.
It also meant that assuming there were 60 million Cable & Satellite households, a cable / DTH operator couldn’t give services to more than 9 million households. This could have encouraged under-declaration resulting in revenue loss to the government and restriction to the further consolidation of the cable industry.
The Ministry has also done away with the provision of confiscation of equipment used by the service provider in case of violation of terms and conditions of the licence. The Rs 50 lakh fine has also been reduced to Rs 25 lakh.
The sub-section under Public Service Broadcasting Obligations regarding the government’s right to prescribe the terms and conditions regarding Public Service Broadcasting Obligation Fund (PSBOF) has also been removed.
The concept of Digital Addressable System (DAS) has also been brought under Section 8, which says the government may make it obligatory for every broadcasting network service provider in the country to transmit channels through a ‘Digital Addressable System’ replacing the term ‘addressable system’ in the preliminary Bill. This means, not just MSOs, who run the Conditional Access System (CAS), but cable operators too will have to digitise transmission as and when the government makes it mandatory.
However, many of the serious clauses like cross-media holding restricted to 20 per cent, mandatory sharing of content with Prasar Bharati, the control of government on the proposed Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), etc., have not been changed.
However, since the draft is open for public debate and suggestions, as it only represents the ‘current thinking’ of the Ministry and will be ‘further refined’, the broadcast industry can heave a big sigh of relief, at least for now.