The industry discussion on the proposed Broadcast Bill continues and one of the recent steps was a meeting of the I&B Ministry with all the other stakeholders of the broadcast sector on September 7, 2007. In addition to various NGOs like VOICE, the meeting saw the presence of key industry bodies like the Indian Broadcast Federation (IBF), News Broadcast Association (NBA), Indian Newspaper Society (INS), Press Council of India, FICCI and Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI).
Some of the people present at the meeting were I&B Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi; I&B Additional Secretary, Pradeep Singh; I&B Joint Secretary, Zohra Chatterjee; and Prasar Bharati’s CEO B S Lali; Chairman of the Consultative Committee of I&B Ministry, Nikhil Kumar.
The other prominent names present were India Today’s Chairman Aroon Purie; IBF’s Jawahar Goel; NBA’s Annie Joseph; India Today’s Prabhu Chawla; ENIL’s A P Parigi; STAR India’s Paritosh Joshi; Times Now’s Sunil Lulla; STAR News’ Shazi Zaman; IBN-7’s Ashutosh; and NDTV’s Pankaj Pachori. Some of the other industry members like COFI President Roop Sharma and Ashok Mansukhani were also there.
The evening was designed as an opportunity for broadcasters to voice their concerns on the proposed Broadcast Bill.
Subsequent to hearing both sides of the discussion, the final say was of the I&B Minister, who cited examples of markets like Australia, Japan, the US, Canada and others, which had regulation and issues like cross-media ownership and foreign ownership was monitored via this regulation.
The Minister also said that he viewed press as a critical component of any democracy and wouldn’t want any law that would damage freedom of the press. “I see journalists as creative people, who have a role to play in nation-building and I don’t want to curtail that, instead I want to expand that,” Dasmunsi said.
He promised that the Bill that would be introduced now would be different from one that had been proposed, and that he would consider all points made by the stakeholders, including the view of an autonomous regulator. However, he was clear that a Bill would indeed be introduced. He also said that aspects of the industry such as the ratings system would be scrutinised further for their reliability and accuracy. He mentioned that he had met TAM Media Research in the process already, and was expecting this dialogue to be taken forward.
Prior to this, Aroon Purie dressed the gathering, wherein he asked that in a situation where there were legislations that covered the broadcast sector, was a Broadcast Bill really needed. He pointed out that the issue was not the presence of the law, but the enforcement of the law, and identified this as an area that needed attention.
He substantiated his point citing examples of the Indian Penal Code for libel and defamation, Competition Bill for cross-media holding restrictions that was said to be brought to control monopolies. He also said that self-regulation models already existed in the shape of Advertising Standard Council of India’s (ASCI) Consumer Complaints Committee (CCC), and pointed out that the NBA was working on such models for the news broadcast sector.
The meeting saw a clear division between organisations who insisted on regulation and said that the broadcast industry was being irresponsible in its outlook on this matter. NGOs like Voluntary Organisation in Interest of Consumer Education (VOICE) and COFI members were unanimous in stating that Indian broadcasters were only interested in profiteering, and that they would go to any lengths for this. Representatives of these organisations stated that broadcast companies were in the habit of spiking every effort to regulate this industry, and that they should be more responsible to civil society.
According to Ashok Mansukhani, broadcasters had the habit of being dismissive, but that the regulation in the sector was on Supreme Court’s instruction, so there was no choice in the matter. However, the industry should have a regulator, who should be autonomous.
A contradicting view on the need for regulation came from various editors and organisation heads, who said that any regulation would be intrusion on freedom of speech. Members like Pankaj Pachori pointed out that if the Election Commission was performing after 60 years, it would be unrealistic to expect laws on media to take off in a year. He also said that the news media was responsible and that occasional lapses happened everywhere, even in politics, but these should not be used as excuses. NBA’s Annie Joseph said that the NBA was working on a model where there would be ethics in the conduct of a story, which if breached, would lead to corrective action.
Members of the Press Council suggested that television could be added in their domain like they were looking after print. Jawahar Goel was also amongst the members who said that regulation was there in every industry, but there should be an autonomous regulator.
The common consensus that emerged at the end of the day was that if the Bill misses the Winter Session as well, it wouldn’t factor in the following session, which is the Budget Session. Even after being introduced, it would be considered by the standing committee consultative process, and fundamentally it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that the Bill is still a year away.