The Budget Session of Parliament has got underway. The Railway Budget would be presented on February 26 and the Union Budget on February 29. Even as all channels gear up to cover the Budget proceedings, Lok Sabha TV (LSTV) has thrown a spanner of sorts, announcing that the telecast of the proceedings inside the Lok Sabha would be made payable, starting this Budget Session.
The channels are in a quandary, as there is hardly any time to negotiate. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has sent a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee requesting him to put on hold the order until a thorough discussion took place with the stakeholders.
Live feed from LSTV of the proceedings of the Union Budget 2008, Railway Budget 2008, and President’s Address to both Houses of Parliament would cost all channels except Doordarshan Rs 1 lakh.
TV channels would have to cough up Rs 3 lakh to telecast Lok Sabha proceedings, including President’s Address to a joint sitting of Parliament, events in the Central Hall, Union Budget, Rail Budget, No-Confidence Motions, etc., for use as part of regularly scheduled daily news bulletins or programmes of which the actual news element constitutes the main features on an annual basis.
The circular on behalf of Lok Sabha TV has been sent to broadcasters by Sunit Tandon, Executive Director, Marketing. It states, “It has been observed that various channels, especially news, current affairs and business channels, had been utilising live feeds of LSTV from time to time or using excerpts from LSTV telecasts such as proceedings of the Lok Sabha, presentation of the Railway Budget, presentation of the General Budget. LSTV is a public service broadcast channel. As such, so far, no restrictions had been placed on use of excerpts from the transmissions of the channel by other commercial channels. However, it may be recalled that at the time when Lok Sabha proceedings were telecast on DDLS, Doordarshan had issued a rate card stipulating fees for use of proceedings of the House by other channels and as such fees were collected from time to time.”
It had, therefore, been decided that similar fees would now be payable to LSTV for use of part or whole of its telecasts by any channel other than Doordarshan from the Budget Session 2008 onwards, the circular further said.
The circular also states, “Please note that henceforth, we also request that live feeds/ footage from LSTV be shown without obscuring or masking the LSTV Channel logo and with the caption ‘Courtsey Lok Sabha Television’.” It also mentioned that payment of subscription would be required by each individual channel utilising live feeds and footage.
Meanwhile, the NBA has also requested the Lok Sabha Speaker to seek a report on whether the practice of charging private cable and satellite channels for content of urgent national importance existed in any major Parliamentary democracy of the world.
A copy of the letter has also been sent to Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Union Minister for I&B & Parliamentary Affairs; P Chidambaram, Union Minister for Finance; Laloo Prasad Yadav, Union Minister for Railways; Bhasker Ghosh, Executive Director, Lok Sabha Television; Sunit Tandon, Executive Director (Marketing), Lok Sabha Television; and Sanjaya Baru, Media Adviser to the Prime Minister, among others.
“It is understood that our member broadcasters have been advised by the Lok Sabha Television that henceforth, special content from Parliament, including the forthcoming Railway Budget, Finance Bill and other proceedings, cannot be aired by private news, current affairs and business channels unless a specified fee is paid by them,” stated NBA in the letter. “We are not sure whether this decision has been taken with your consent as the Lok Sabha Television Channel is directly owned and operated by the Lok Sabha Secretariat. It seems the decision has been taken without keeping in mind the larger picture regarding content dissemination to the general public of the world’s largest democracy,” it added.
“It is unclear whether it is the intention that the speeches of the Railway Minister, the Finance Minister and other proceedings are available only on the DD network and the Lok Sabha Channel and that private cable and satellite channels, which attracts 44 million viewers in a day, do not get to air their speeches live or the other proceedings. Payments aren’t just a point of principle, but also several news channels may not be in a financial position to pay this fee,” the letter stated.
The NBA comprises leading television news and current affairs channels of India, including TV Today Network Ltd (Aajtak, Headlines Today, Delhi Aajtak and Tej), New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV 24x7, NDTV India, NDTV Profit and NDTV MetroNation), Global Broadcast News Ltd (CNN-IBN), Television Eighteen India Pvt Ltd (CNBC TV18, Awaaz and IBN 7), Times Global Broadcasting Company
Ltd (Times Now), Zee News Ltd ( Zee News, Zee Business and Zee 24 Tass) Media Content & Communication Services (India) Ltd (Star News, Star Ananda and Star Majha) and Independent News Service Pvt Ltd (India TV).