Feedback for the lawmakers

IN Law and Policy | 13/09/2006
The Broadcasting Bill fails to address the core technology issue of ‘convergence’ and is predominantly regulatory in nature.

Resolutions from a Roundtable on the Broadcasting Bill organized by the Department of Communication, Sarojni Naidu School, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, September 2, 2006

A one-day roundtable discussion on the proposed Broadcast Services Regulation Bill, 2006 was organized by the Department of Communication, Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts, Fine Arts & Communication, University of Hyderabad on September 2, 2006.  Communication and Journalism academics from University of Hyderabad, Osmania University, Telugu University, and Maulana Azad National Urdu University participated in the discussion.  In addition, about 50 students of mass communication and journalism from these institutions took part in the deliberations.

At the outset, participants welcomed the Union Government¿s initiative to re-visit the rapidly changing broadcasting scenario in the country and offer fresh legislation to deal with new realities.  Participants appreciated the gesture of the Government in asking stakeholders to give suggestions and feedback on the proposed Bill. After a detailed and thorough examination of the Draft Bill, participants resolved as follows:

  1. The broadcasting scene in India, with all its technological, economic, political and cultural implications, is ripe for a comprehensive legislation by the State.  In its current state, the Bill fails to address the core technology issue of ¿convergence.¿ It was felt that without directly dealing with this issue, this bill will become yet another piecemeal legislation. It was also felt that a comprehensive legislation such as this should come about after a well-planned series of public consultations with various stakeholders, including industry representatives, media consumers, and civil society groups.
  2. At a broader level, the Bill fails to articulate either a comprehensive vision about broadcasting in a country like India or a set of detailed objectives.  Such a vision should incorporate goals such as universal access, diversity and pluralism, equity, social justice, and fair competition.
  3. The language of the Bill, as the title itself suggests, is predominantly regulatory in nature.  While regulation in itself cannot be wished away, a comprehensive legislation regarding a precious public resource such as the airwaves should speak the language of enabling and facilitating, rather than prohibiting.
  4. In the same spirit as above, the proposed agency to oversee broadcasting in India should simply be called the Broadcasting Authority of India, rather than Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India.  This Authority should be truly autonomous, free from constant supervision and interference from the Central Government.  It should be ensured that the constitution of the Authority should reflect wider geographical and linguistic representation, apart from providing space for expressing the interests of various sections of society, especially those of women, minorities, and dalits.
  5. While the provision in the Bill of "restrictions on accumulation of interest" is welcome, it is observed that the restrictions are limited only to vertical integration in the industry and does not address horizontal integration.  Cross-media ownership restrictions are in place in broadcasting policies of all major democratic countries.  Unless the restrictions are extended to incorporate limits on controlling different media outlets in the same geographical market, the interests of consumers would not be served in terms of delivering content that reflects diversity and plurality of news and information, opinion, and entertainment.
  6. The Draft Bill, in one broad sweep, seeks to retrospectively give statutory status to various guidelines on broadcasting issued from time to time by the Union Cabinet.  This makes sense only when the earlier guidelines are unproblematic and are widely accepted by various stakeholders.  This provision is particularly alarming in the case of half-hearted and limited guidelines issued in the name of Community Radio Policy of 2002. The participants strongly felt that an opportunity to re-visit these guidelines comprehensively should not be lost.
  7. The Draft Bill is completely silent on the long-standing demand from civil society groups, media academics and activists for opening up the community radio sector to NGOs and other grassroots organizations.  The current policy limits community radio only for established educational institutions.  Campus radio is a welcome addition to the Indian broadcasting scene, but it is not a substitute for community radio of the kind that is available all over the world.  The Union Government must use the opportunity provided by the Broadcasting Bill to expand the ambit of broadcasting to include community radio and television, especially for civil society groups and marginalized communities.
  8. It is suggested that in its articulation of a vision for broadcasting, the Bill should clearly spell-out a three-tier system of broadcasting - public, commercial, and community.  The licensing guidelines, including license fee, should also take a differential approach to each of these sectors.
  9. It was felt that the complete absence of redressal mechanisms for the media consumer in the draft Bill is particularly stark. One of the suggestions at the roundtable felt that either enabling provisions for the same should be incorporated in the Bill or at least the present Press Council can be expanded to cover Television Media.
  10. In one of its provisions, the proposed bill says that the cable operators should compulsorily carry Public Broadcasters specified from time to time. Given the goals the nation has set for itself in the education sector, it was felt that this must carry clause in the prime band should be broadened to include education channels as well. And the education channels could be either from the public or private sector.                 

The roundtable threw up several other interesting issues such as:

  • The desirability of moving broadcasting from central list to concurrent list, at least in some areas like Terrestrial Television and FM Radio;
  • The futility of trying to boost commercial earnings of a public broadcaster by protecting their rights to sports signals;
  • The need to have clear provisions for redressal of consumer concerns and complaints; and
  • The need to regulate cable television delivery service so as to reduce the current situation of monopolies and criminalization of the sector.

Contact information:

Prof. B P Sanjay
Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts, Fine Arts & Communication
University of Hyderabad, Gachibowli, Hyderabad 500046
Email: bpssn@uohyd.ernet.in

Prof. Vinod Pavarala
Dean, Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts, Fine Arts & Communication
University of Hyderabad, Gachibowli, Hyderabad 500046
Email: vpsn@uohyd.ernet.in or vpavarala@gmail.com

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