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Mixed Media: MIB & TRAI get hyperactive before poll code of conduct gets active

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Mixed Media:  MIB & TRAI get hyperactive before poll code of conduct gets active

The Government is generally the chief newsmaker. In the good ol’ days of Doordarshan, we were forced to consume whatever the channel dished out. Only the newspapers gave us a propah worldview, but for that you would have to wait for the following morning (or afternoon). Most people in the trade don’t even bother to track government business on a day-to-day basis. If there’s something noteworthy, it gets flashed on the wires or on television.

But as a habit, I find it prudent to check the Press Information Bureau site as well as the announcements section of the Bombay Stock Exchange. Check these pages at least three to four times a day, add a Google Alert for all the topics of your interest, and you can be sure you’ll be on top of the news of the day.

With the Election Commission due to announce poll dates any day, the ministers and the bureaucracy are on an overdrive to let key decisions be passed. For, later, these could be construed to have been taken to influence voters.

So, let’s see what the I&B Minister and/or the Regulator did Monday through Saturday:

Monday, February 23:

I&B MoS Anand Sharma joined the world in congratulating the Indian Oscar stars. My personal view is that our External Affairs Ministry (where Mr Sharma co-exists) missed an opportunity of educating AR Rahman or Resul Pookutty to speak on terrorism, etc., given that the film is set in Mumbai. When I posted this comment on Facebook last week, some people thought it wasn’t a good idea, but I don’t see anything wrong. After all, we aren’t asking them to talk about Kashmir or the Naxals, but an issue that’s connected to Mumbai, given that both mentioned the city in their acceptance speech.

Sharma also inaugurated at the three-day Broadcast Engineering Society (BES) Expo 2009 and said that the “role of All India Radio and Doordarshan is not only that of public service broadcasting, but also to introduce new technologies like Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H), Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), etc., to the masses at no or least cost”. Well, as ‘owners’ of both AIR and DD, the Government ought to be equipping the pubcasters with new technologies. I would’ve been happier though if the Minister had spoken about the need to produce good quality software and ensure that AIR and DD give private players a run for their money.

Tuesday, February 24:

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued the Standards of Quality of Service for cable services in areas not coming under the compulsory Conditional Access System. While it’s good that TRAI has come up with procedures for connection, disconnection and reconnection, compulsory issue of bills and receipts, complaint handling processes, providing decoders and set-top boxes, tech and quality standards, etc., the tribe of cable operators is tough to handle. And these rules have come in a little too late.

Wednesday, February 25:

TRAI finally issues its recommendations on media ownerships, but ducks the sensitive issue of horizontal integration – that is, a media group owning entities in the print, radio, television, etc., space. For the moment, TRAI says there is no emerging threat of market failure due to the likes of a Times, HT or India Today Group owning print, radio and television entities. TRAI, however, has issues about vertical integration – which means the broadcaster mustn’t have absolute control in distribution (cable, DTH, HITS, mobile TV) and vice versa. It is felt that 20 per cent should be the cap for this and the existing players will have three years to restructure. I think this is unnecessary, and the Regulator’s intervention, if and when distributors play truant, should be good enough.

TRAI feels that the limits on licences by a single entity as it exist today are fine and there is no restriction on control of ownership across telecom and media. Also, TRAI says that “after working out the required safeguards for horizontal and vertical integration, the merger and acquisition guidelines for the sector may be issued to prevent media concentration and creation of significant market power”.

I am pleasantly surprised that TRAI doesn’t find the linkage of telecom and media. To my mind, the telecom czars – if they are progressive enough – can be the biggest media powers as they control the pipeline. In a sense, they are also distributors of content, and with advancements in mobile technology, cellphones will turn into primary media vehicles. Anyway, I’m glad TRAI has turned a blind eye to this, so why worry.

I think all of this will only lead to intelligent ways to beat the rules. If I run a TV channel, I may not be able to own a DTH service, but nothing stops my brother-in-law from doing so.

Thursday, February 26:

Sharma informed Parliament that as of February 25, applications of 97 private news and current affairs channels and 85 non-news channels were in “various stages of scrutiny”. At present, 215 news and 233 non-news channels uplink or downlink from India.

Sharma also said that the MIB had constituted a Media Consultative Committee for facilitation under the chairmanship of Secretary, Information & Broadcasting. The Committee includes professionals from media organisations – print and electronic media and representatives of civil society.

The terms of reference: be a forum for consultations between the government and professional bodies, to provide a platform for exchange of views on concerns of civil society and to discuss concerns of the media on rules laid. The Committee will meet at least twice a year or as and when necessary.

Friday, February 27:

The MIB officially issued a statement hiking DAVP ad rates. But it’s going to last only till June 30, 2009… that’s a little after the elections happen. The stimulus thus is: Waiver of 15 per cent agency commission on DAVP ads and 10 per cent increase in the current DAVP rates to be paid as a separate element and designated as ‘special relief’, subject to documentary proof of loss of revenue in year-on-year non-govt ads. Ha ha. So, if you can prove that you’ve been drawing lesser monies than last, only then will the government up your rate.

Saturday, February 28:

Sharma was in Lucknow for the Akashwani Awards. While this news item didn’t appear on the PIB website, PTI reported that the Minister spoke of a proposal in existence for the creation of a 24-hour All India Radio news channel. He also tried to please journalists – especially from small newspapers –with the news that the Centre is considering the appointment of the chairman of the journalists’ wage board.

Phew! Indeed a big week for Anand Sharma and the TRAI. Expect more of all of this in the coming weeks.

PS: A warm welcome to Turner, the Alva brothers, Sunil Lulla and the team at Real Broadcast as the channel takes off today. It’s not going to be easy to rule the ratings, even as it is evident that a lot of homework has gone into getting the mix right as also the marketing and distribution of the channel. We know and they know it’s going to be real-ly very tough. But, some of the people at Real have been there, done that. Welcome aboard, Real.

(The views expressed here are my own. Email if you agree/disagree with what’s written.)


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