Mixed Media: Media-friendly Budget is a must for a stronger India

The Union Budget on July 3 should abolish all duties on computers, telephony, cables etc in order to build a strong and affordable information infrastructure. Online and social media are as vital as print and electronic, writes Pradyuman Maheshwari

e4m by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Published: Jun 15, 2009 7:26 AM  | 3 min read
Mixed Media: Media-friendly Budget is a must for a stronger India

If you thought the headline read as if it was for an insignificant Page 6/8 report on a delegation of industrypersons meeting the Finance Minister, you’re wrong. Sadly, no one in I&B would’ve gone with such a plea to the FM.

I have limited expectations from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. If it had been P Chidambaram, one could’ve expected some dramatic stuff. Had the Prime Minister mustered the guts to move a Montek Singh Ahluwalia from his office of the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission to being the high priest at North Block, one would’ve seen some fireworks.

Mukherjee, by the way, was rated as one of the five best Finance Ministers of the world in the year 1984 by Euro Money and has been decorated with the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second-highest civilian honour.

But the accolades and the fact that he’s been in Parliament since 1969 and is a seasoned minister doesn’t make Pranabda the best choice for the job. He’s FM because the Prime Minister and the Congress can ill-afford any experiments with the economy. Governments are after all about politics, and sound economics doesn’t generally work for ruling parties.

I was happy to learn that our infobroad ministry made some interesting requests for sops in the Union Budget that’s due on July 3. Ambika Soni has asked for a five-year tax holiday on digital set-top boxes. Coincidentally, the plea was made a few hours before all television signals in the United States turned digital. I don’t think a compulsory digitisation can happen in India given that it requires an additional expense for consumers. The only way to encourage more installations of set-top boxes is hence by ensuring that these get more affordable.

As per a Business Standard report, the I&B ministry has also asked for parity in service tax between broadcast and print sectors, a reduction in the fringe benefit tax for media personnel from 20 per cent to 5 per cent, and the removal of anomaly on duty levied on imported films and tapes. Parity between broadcast and print is good, and must include equality in permission for foreign ownership too. The highlight of the I&B minister’s suggestions to the FM though is that broadcasting should be categorised as an infrastructure service to enable it to get all the incentives applicable for other nation-building industries.

I would’ve gone a step further in all of this. Not just broadcast – but the entire media – must be considered as vital as roads and housing. So: taxes on computers, connectivity services, cables, cameras, telephony etc must be abolished. Not only must be levies be eased, the government must encourage these sectors hugely.

We live in an information age. Just as the industrial revolution and information technology helped propel the West and East to their domineering state, there’s an opportunity for us with ‘information’. Connectivity via the internet and mobile phones can help boost trade, up efficiencies and thereby improve the economy. The government must realise that the online and social media are as vital as mainstream entities like television, print and radio to build public opinion and empower Indians across the country. Thanks to exposure to television and the internet, it doesn’t really matter if you are from Varanasi, Vadodara or Versova. Cellphones, computers and television sets are great equalisers.

If the government shows the foresight, it can help unshackle a wealth of talent that exists beyond the big cities. Anyone there with this vision?

The views expressed here are my own.

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