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NewsNext 2008: I&B Secretary Sushma Singh bats for self regulation

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NewsNext 2008:  I&B Secretary Sushma Singh bats for self regulation

The news media broadcasting domain in India sees significant attention for the kind of content and the momentum that the genre is witnessing here. In light of the challenge that the genre faces, exchange4media Group has instituted ‘NewsNext’. The first edition of the conference took place in Delhi on August 22, aimed at looking at various aspects of the news business; identify the problem areas and get all stakeholders of the business together to get a reality check on the domain.

In its first year, NewsNext saw participation from the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, news broadcasters, and brand custodians. Industry leaders suggested a way forward to grow the medium responsibly. The conference was presented by Times Now.

Sushma Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), who was the chief guest at the event, set the tone for the day when she said that the Government very positive on the growth of the Indian broadcasting industry. She reiterated that digitisation was on the priority of the MIB agenda and was also very clear that while the Government took cognizance of TRAI’s recommendation on self-regulation ratings, and steps taken by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) regarding self-regulation in content, these were areas that impacted the consumer in the end, and that there were basic points due to which the MIB would have a role to play.

Earlier, welcoming the delegates, Anurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media Group pointed out three aspects of the medium that he thought needed deliberation. The first point he made was that of content, and how the quality that was seen today could be addressed. He stressed on the need for self-regulation here. He also said that the entry requisites for a news channel today were too simple and that issuing a license should be as difficult as for a bank. Batra also explained that the distribution of news through digital platforms should be focussed on. In the present state, channels are assigning 30-40 per cent of their budgets on distribution. “If even 15 per cent was to be invested on content creation, it would make a lot of difference,” Batra maintained.

‘Self-regulation is welcome, but there much that needs attention’

Sushma Singh spoke on the Indian media landscape and elaborated on the growth that the Indian media and entertainment, and the Indian television industry in particular, was seeing. “The I&B Ministry has given permissions to close to 400 channels and 150 applications are in different stages of processing at present. Technology is changing the way television is viewed, and that is a challenge to the I&B Ministry,” she divulged.

She explained that while the MIB was a regulator for broadcasters, it was also a facilitator. “The Ministry is enabling an environment that is transparent and promotes healthy competition, creating a level playing field. Most importantly, it should also protect the consumer and the MIB does so by provisions of various enactments and rules,” Singh elaborated.

She mentioned various Government initiatives like the introduction of new service providers and establishing of IPTV as a platform along with HITS, mobile TV and so on. She admitted that this was a new area for the Ministry as well, and that some steps were tentative. “However, we have the TRAI that guides us very professionally in technical matters and carriage matters,” Singh added.

The MIB is all for promoting digitisation, which, Singh said, was viewed as beneficial for all stakeholders. “The TV industry alone has registered a growth of 18 per cent. Digitisation would promote revenue earning,” Singh said. She also informed that CAS was on the MIB’s radar and added, “We are also learning from our experiences. The encryption of CAS, the mechanism for the grievance for consumers and other such details are being addressed. The way the broadcast media is developing, digitisation is necessary.”

She also spoke on the MIB’s stand in bringing in regulation in content and ratings. According to her, the Government needed to provide policy guidelines for transparency in areas such ratings, and that the MIB had taken cognizance of the final recommendation of TRAI regarding self-regulation in that area. Self-regulation in content was also welcome, but according to Singh, there were some factors there that would play a large role in deciding how that would pan out.

She said, “Self regulation is necessary, and it is a voluntary action. It has to come from the people who manage the channel itself. There are ethics in broadcasting that are relevant, and should be observed. We would always welcome self regulation and no government can interfere in things like that. However, we would like to see its performance. Self regulation would have to keep in mind certain national and expected norms. There are questions like whether all broadcasters have come onboard or not, the participation of regional channels that are an acceptance of our diversity – all of them would play a role in this.”

‘We had started as a public interest channel, but the industry forced us to change’

After the I&B Secretary, Rajat Sharma, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India TV, delivered the keynote address for NewsNext 2008. He outlined the India TV experience to explain that much of the content seen today was a result of the competitive media dynamics of the industry. He touched upon the industry structure, where advertising was the main revenue source and ratings were the judging factors, and that when this was put together, the business was about creating content that people watched.

Going back in time a bit, Sharma reminisced, “I had borrowed money from banks and friends when I wanted to launch a channel, and I had wanted to do something that was in public interest. Many have forgotten that when India TV had begun, we had shows on social issues, child welfare, animal welfare, and these were all regular shows five times a day. We had roped in experts like Tarun Tejpal and Maneka Gandhi for these shows, and we continued with this for two years. There were no ratings. Media planners told my sales team that it is a good channel, but it doesn’t have numbers.”

He explained that at the time, some of the top-rated shows were the likes of ‘Kaal, Kapaal Mahakaal’, ‘Khauff’, ‘Koi Hai’ and ‘Sansani’. The genres getting ratings were crime, cricket and cinema. Sharma continued to divulge that there were enough instances that “forced India TV to fight the ratings war”. He then said, “Questioning the kind of content on the channel is justified and I agree that there is space for correction, but are we the only ones who have to do this? What about the other mediums? The same things are said in newspapers, too, but it would still be only the broadcasters who get pulled up.”

Sharma was very positive on self regulation. He said, “The news broadcasters have come up with self regulation and have put together a code for themselves. Broadcasters are available and open to correction. Self regulation would work in the industry because the industry is working towards it. But this is the time for collaborating and solving these issues.”


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