In its first formal interaction with the broadcast and media industry after the I&B Ministry put the proposed Broadcast Bill on its website, industry representatives voiced their concern regarding the far reaching implications of the Bill, especially on cross-media holding restrictions.
In the presence of I&B Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi and Secretary S K Arora, FICCI Secretary-General Amit Mitra said, “If cross-media holdings restriction were implemented then many merger and equity transactions by the industry players will not materialise. Some players have heavily invested in other broadcasting companies and network service companies. If the Bill is passed in its present form, they will have to restructure their entire business models. It even may hurt future mergers and acquisitions in the broadcast industry.”
Further raising his concern over the 15 per cent cap on number of channels by a broadcasting company, Mitra held that the provision was too harsh and restrictive in nature. “Some broadcasters like Zee already has 27 channels,” he noted.
Mitra maintained that the Competition Bill, which the government had proposed, should take care of the monopoly practices by the industry, including the broadcast industry, rather than having special provisions in the Broadcast Bill.
Welcoming the mandatory sharing of sports content with the public broadcaster, Mitra said, “What we should strive for is a proper revenue sharing model which will make the proposal commercially viable and will also ensure maximum reach of content.”
Meanwhile, some other industry representatives contested the concept of public broadcaster. “Prasar Bharati is not a public service broadcaster, it is a public-funded commercial service provider,” opined a broadcaster. “As Prasar Bharati competes with commercial channels for advertisement, cable operators should not be forced to carry Doordarshan channels and Lok Sabha channels on prime band as the capacity is limited on cable transmission,” he held.
Indian Media Group (IMG), representative of a section of the broadcast industry, said that Doordarshan should be treated at par with commercial channels. It also held that there should be common regulation for print and broadcast industry as far as news and current affairs is concerned. “The Press Council of India (PCI) code of conduct should also be applicable to the broadcast industry,” it held.
Holding a different view, Rajiv Malhotra, President, Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT), said, “Media is more than an industrial product and hence, should have greater accountability.” He strongly objected to the provision in the Public Service Obligation, which allows broadcasters to ‘buy their way out’ to avoid the obligation. “Broadcasters should be given tax incentives for the public content that they may carry,” he maintained.
Speaking at the sidelines of the discussion, Chintamani Rao, CEO, India TV, said, “In many ways the Broadcast Bill that has been put forth by the Government is the same as it was previously discussed. The overall concern of the industry remains the same.”
Other industry representatives like Indian Broadcasting Forum, Assocham and individual media and broadcast representatives were also present at the discussion.