I&B Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi gave ample hints that cross media restrictions might be relaxed for Indian media companies in the proposed Broadcast Bill, while at the same time maintaining that the Broadcast Bill would ‘neither be diluted nor polluted’.
Speaking at the 65th AGM of Indian Languages Newspaper Association (ILNA), Dasmunsi said, “We will provide a level playing field to the Indian broadcasters who are facing the challenge from foreign channels so that they can grow and compete with the foreign broadcasters.” His statement has given enough fodder for speculation that the stringent cross media holding restrictions might be relaxed.
In an interview with Dasmunsi, published in the current issue of India Today, when asked how he could ensure a media-friendly Bill without changing it, as it was in its present form, the minister said, “The draft is just for eliciting public opinion When the baby is not born, how can you determine whether it is fair-skinned or not?”
The Broadcast Bill proposes to cap cross media ownership at 20 per cent, which means a broadcaster cannot have more than 20 per cent stake in another broadcasting network, a cable network or DTH or a radio network. Television networks, too, will not be allowed to own more than 15 per cent of the total number of channels, like the private FM Radio operators.
Recently, speaking on behalf of Indian Media Group (IMG) after meeting the I&B Ministry Secretary, Subhash Chandra, Chairman, Zee Telefilms, had said, “Foreign broadcasters have an option to stay in India or leave, but we, the Indian broadcasters, have no option but to abide by the government regulations and work under it.”
“Instead of restricting market shares in Indian context, global ownership percentage of Indian media houses should be taken into account. As Indian media is at a developing stage, it requires huge capital investment and need to meet the technical and manpower requirements. Hence, the government should allow us to be significant enough in the global context before it imposes restrictions on us,” Chandra had further said.
Speaking on the issue of freedom of the press, Dasmunsi said that newspaper companies should also ensure freedom to their own journalists to speak the truth. “Do you rely on your reporters and give them enough opportunity to function independently? You should also debate this in my absence,” he held.
Brushing aside the apprehension of the media about the Broadcast Bill, Dasmunsi said that all apprehensions as reported in the media were baseless and out of context. “The Broadcast Bill that I will take to the Parliament will be progressive and the most media-friendly in the world,” he maintained.
Assuring full support to small and medium newspapers, Dasmunsi said that the government planned to raise the advertising share of small and medium newspapers to 50 per cent from the present 40 per cent.
The government implemented the revised Advertising Policy, which took effect last month, under which the share of small and medium newspapers in government advertisements has been raised from 25 per cent to 40 per cent.
The eligibility requirement for receiving government advertisement has been reduced to a circulation of 2,000 copies to facilitate small/medium newspapers. Those with circulation of less than 75,000 have been exempted from ABC certificate.
Dasmunsi also said that in order to address the financial constraints of vernacular language newspapers, he would urge the big corporate houses to route one-third of their advertising through such papers.