What's on the agenda for new I&B minister Anurag Thakur?
Key matters like the BARC rating fiasco, New IT Rules, OTT Regulations and CTN Act, 5G complications await Thakur as he takes over the reins from Prakash Javadekar
There has been a paradigm shift in the media landscape in the year gone by, with a slew of announcements and measures impacting the M&E industry. It has been a busy year for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As Anurag Thakur takes charge of the department he is expected to have his hands full.
Son of former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, the 46-year-old Thakur is an MP from Himachal Pradesh's Hamirpur.
Soon after the swearing-in ceremony Thakur took to social media and said, "I am honoured to serve the people of India as a Cabinet Minister and take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji for entrusting me with this responsibility".
As the media and entertainment industry awaits to see how Thakur handles several ongoing processes like the proposed Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021, here are the five key matters that the minister will have to address after taking over.
1. Facilitating timely adoption of New IT Rules
The new IT rules were introduced earlier this year and the social media intermediaries were given three months to implement the necessary changes in the system.
Under this, the government asked digital media publishers, publishers of digital news linked to traditional media, and over-the-top (OTT) media service platforms to furnish basic information about themselves and their self-regulatory mechanisms.
This was opposed by the various media associations but the government refused to grant exemption to any. Subsequently, many publications moved to court against the IT rules 2021.
As stakeholders like Press Trust Of India (PTI) and many others, continue to approach courts, challenging the rule, the new minister will be expected to handle the crisis at the earliest.
2. To come up with a solution on suspension of news ratings by BARC
Earlier this year, a committee was set up to review the guidelines of television rating agencies. The committee was chaired by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempatti and had three other experts on board.
While the committee submitted its report to the ministry by the end of January 2021, the ministry had written a letter to BARC, asking them to maintain a ‘status quo’ on the ongoing issue of blackout of TV ratings for the news genre.
The news broadcasting fraternity is eagerly waiting for the ministry to come up with its observations based on the review submitted by the committee so that BARC can go ahead and make a decision to either release TV news viewership data or extend the blackout period.
3. Bring more clarity around amendments introduced to the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act
A fortnight ago, the central government prescribed a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for TV broadcasters by amending the Cable Television Networks (CTN) Rules in order to bring them at par with the over the top (OTT) and digital news platforms.
Like the IT rules, the amended CTN rules allow broadcasters to form more than one self-regulatory body (SRB). While some believe that the move will guarantee uniformity between TV and OTT and will give more authority to the SRBs, others are unsure whether the level of content self-regulation that may be achieved through these rules is constitutionally valid or not.
The new minister will be expected to take up the issue at the earliest and address all the questions raised by stakeholders on the same. The ministry is also expected to furnish more details and clarity on the criteria that SRBs need to adhere to in order to be recognized.
4. Ensuring 5G services don’t disrupt satellite television services
While broadcasters are not against 5G services, their only apprehension around the same is about the potential disruption in satellite television services.
Mostly all C-Band satellites use the band of frequencies between 3.7 GHz and 4.2 GHz for their downlinks. Since most television channels operate between 3.7 GHz and 4.9 GHz, broadcasters fear interruption in signals as spectrum in the range of 3.00 GHz to 3.6 GHz has been identified for 5G usages in the country.
Broadcasters have expressed concerns around this possible clash of bands and expect the government to secure their bands and ensure that there is no clash with 5G bands.
5. Facilitating OTT Self-regulatory model without government intervention
The New IT Rules apart, MIB has always insisted on maintaining a clear mandate for the OTT industry and self-regulation. The ministry has consistently maintained its stand on not introducing a statutory body but helping the players set up a self-regulation process.
Last year, MIB had also asked OTT players to set up an adjudicatory body and finalize a code of conduct. The new MIB ministry will be expected to take up the issue and help players adopt self-regulation on mutually agreeable terms.
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