Anurag Thakur fields questions from Rajya Sabha MPs on NTO 2.0, TRP scam, OTT regulation

Thakur also spoke on the schemes of the government for the production, promotion, and preservation of film content

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Feb 4, 2022 8:26 AM  | 6 min read
Anurag Thakur

Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Anurag Singh Thakur fielded multiple questions in the Rajya Sabha on several issues like the New Tariff Order (NTO) 2.0, manipulation of TV ratings, transfer of TV channel licences by regional channels, merger of four film divisions, measures taken by the ministry to ensure that OTT platforms are sensitive to India's racial and religious diversity and action against news channels that are promoting anti-India content.

YSR Congress Party MP Vemireddy Prabhakar Reddy asked the Minister about the recent decision of national broadcasters to popular channels out of the bouquet and whether they are charging Rs 15-25 for some channels keeping them outside the bouquet.

In response, the I&B minister noted that the broadcasters have priced their popular channels above Rs 12 and are offering such channels only on an a-la-carte basis. "As per the implementation plan of New Regulatory Framework 2020 issued by TRAI, Distribution Platforms Operators (DPOs) are required to declare rates of channels and bouquets offered to consumers by 31st January 2022 and thereafter offering to the consumer will be made available with effect from 1st April 2022. Therefore, final prices for the consumers can be ascertained after 31st March 2022 when the choice of channels are exercised by consumers," Thakur said.

He added that the New Regulatory Framework notified by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in 2017 gave full flexibility to the broadcasters to declare the price of their pay channels on an a-la-carte basis since December 2018. "TRAI has not fixed the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) for those channels which are kept outside the bouquet. These provisions have not been amended in New Regulatory Framework 2020," he said.

CPI(M) MP John Brittas, Journalist and MD of Malayalam TV channel Kairali TV, asked Thakur about the rigging of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) ratings and the actions proposed by the MIB to ensure robust data.

Thakur responded by saying that BARC has actively pursued action against those involved in tampering the samples and had filed 11 FIRs through its vendors across many states. He added that BARC has also committed to produce robust and credible TV viewership data in India. Thakur noted that BARC India's system was able to detect anomalous viewership behaviour and the cases filed are also due to the strong data security and vigilance system that BARC has set up over a period of time.

In order to study the concerns related to Television Rating Points and address them in the light of fresh recommendations of TRAI and the technological advancements/interventions to address the system, the ministry had constituted a committee under the Chairmanship of Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Prasar Bharati with members from IIT, C-DOT and IIM.

"BARC has informed that, in the spirit of the recommendations of the said Committee and TRAI, it has taken various steps on corporate governance and on streamlining of processes and their transparency. The management involvement in the rating generation process has been institutionally removed. The Oversight and Technical Committees within BARC have been strengthened for data validation and methodology. The access protocols for data have also been revamped and tightened," Thakur stated.

Congress MP Neeraj Dangi sought information from the I&B minister on the issue of subletting of TV channel licences and likely revenue loss to the government due to this. In his reply, Thakur said that a TV channel can be operated only by the company to whom permission has been granted under the uplinking/downlinking guidelines. He further stated that the permission to transfer a channel is allowed in case of merger/ demerger/ amalgamation, or within one Group Company, subject to the fulfilment of various eligibility conditions.

Trinamool Congress MP and former Prasar Bharat CEO Jawhar Sircar asked about the merger of Films Division (FD), National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), and Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) with National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and the fate of employees, premises or budgets of these organisations.

Thakur said that the government has expanded the Memorandum of Articles of Association (MoAA) of NFDC, which will then carry out all the activities hitherto performed by them, and to all consequential action/actions required to be taken, including the closure of these four film media units.

"The employees of the four-film media units to be merged with NFDC shall be adjusted as per the guidelines and Rules & Regulations for Central Government employees. The various schemes of the Government for Production, Promotion, and Preservation of Filmic Content shall continue to work towards encouraging good cinema in the country. The mandate of all the four-film media units shall be carried out by NFDC after this merger," he added.

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MP K.R. Suresh Reddy asked the minister about the measures taken by the government to ensure that OTT platforms take into account India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion.

In his response, the minister noted that the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified on 25th February 2021 under Information Technology Act, 2000 provides for publishers of online curated content (OTT platforms) to adhere to a Code of Ethics prescribed in the Rules. This Code of Ethics outlines general principles to be followed by OTT platforms which inter-alia also prescribe that a publisher shall take into consideration India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or view of any racial or religious group, he added.

"The Rules also provide for a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism to look into grievances/ complaints relating to violation of the Code of Ethics by the publishers (OTT platforms)," Thakur said.

Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ram Chander Jangra asked the government about the action being taken against news channels and journalists who are promoting anti-national thinking. Thakur said that the government takes action against private satellite TV channels in cases where the Programme Code is found to be violated, by way of issuing Advisories, Warnings, Apology Scroll Orders, and Off-air Orders.

The minister said that all programmes telecast on private satellite TV channels are required to adhere to the Programme Code laid down in Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 which inter-alia provides that no programme should be carried in the cable service which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes. "Besides, the Cable Television Network (Amendment) Rules, 2021, notified on 17.6.2021 inter-alia provides for a three-level mechanism for redressal of grievances relating to violation of Programme Code by the broadcasters," he stated.

For Print Media, the Press Council of India, set up under the Press Council Act, 1978, functions with twin objectives to preserve the freedom of the Press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.

Further, the PCI has framed ‘Norms of Journalistic Conduct’ for adherence by the media, which inter-cover principles and ethics of journalism and guidelines for news reporting. This inter-alia contains norms relating to ‘paramount national interest’ including those which are likely to jeopardize, endanger or harm the interest of the State and Society. The council looks into complaints against print media/a violation of Norms of Journalistic Conduct under Section 14 of the Press Council Act, 1978, he further added.

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