The Indian Media Group (IMG) on Tuesday met the I&B Ministry officials and raised several issues regarding the proposed Broadcast Bill. The I&B Secretary assured the Group that the Ministry would now formally consult the industry about the Bill and seek its feedback on the same.
IMG, which met after the Indian Broadcast Foundation (IBF) met the Ministry on July 11, contended that it had called on the Ministry separately as it had a different view on some issues.
“We are supportive of regulation unlike some foreign broadcasters, who may think otherwise. The 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. We believe that well-defined regulations will help the industry to grow,” said Subhash Chandra, President, IMG, while briefing media persons after the meeting.
“We have raised a few issues with the Ministry based on media reports. The Ministry said that as there were many versions of the Bill available in the media circles and as the media is confusing the Broadcast Bill with the Broadcast Code, hence, there would be a consultation process with the broadcast industry before the Bill goes to the Cabinet,” Chandra observed. The industry had previously contended that it was not consulted before drafting of the Bill.
On the proposed Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), the Group demanded that it should be an autonomous body with independent persons in place, and not an extended arm of the government. The Bill empowers the government to appoint and sack the members at its discretion.
“As the Supreme Court guidelines say that airwaves are public property and should be governed by the public, not by the government, hence, the government should not have any control over BRAI,” Chandra held.
IMG objected to the stringent provisions like empowering the state government to seize equipment of broadcasters and other such strict penalty provisions. “If there has to be any such code of conduct, it should apply across the media, including print, radio and the Internet. Even we are open to the idea of bringing the broadcast industry under the Press Council of India Act, 1967 with certain amendments,” he said.
On the issue of cross-media ownership, IMG felt that there was no urgency of imposing cross-media ownership restrictions at present as there was no threat of monopolisation of content in a nascent media industry.
“Cross-media and inter-media restrictions cannot be duplicated from developed and more homogeneous countries for a pluralistic country like India. India is a different case with varied conditions. Instead of restricting market shares in Indian context, global ownership percentage of Indian media houses should be taken into account,” Chandra observed.
“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 further said.
IMG also opposed the preferential treatment given to public broadcaster Prasar Bharati while carrying it on cable networks under the must-carry clause. It holds that as there are only 10 prime time frequencies available, carrying three Prasar Bharati channels in the prime band is not commercially viable.
“80 per cent of the revenue of channels comes through the advertisements during the prime time hours. As Prasar Bharati channels are also in a competitive mode during prime time, we have to fight with them. Hence, preferential treatment should be given to Prasar Bharati channels only if it is completely on public broadcasting mode,” Chandra maintained.
IMG represents the fully owned Indian media companies and was established in 2004. Senior officials from NDTV, TV18, Zee Telefilms, India TV, SAB, and Citi Cable were among those who attended the meeting.