Broadcast: Shouting From The Roof...

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

According to ASSOCHAM, the entertainment industry in India is said to be

around Rs 35,000 crore currently and is growing at 19% per annum. By 2010, it is

expected to be around Rs 85,000 crore.


The stakeholders however, see the industry as worth much more. The immense

reach and influence of television has been a constant source of concern and

encouragement, for the various stakeholders in the broadcast/entertainment

industry. The stakeholders are many, and they are an increasing tribe-from

politicians, government bureaucrats and officials of the industry, social

workers, broadcasters, advertisers, viewers, and the cable network operators. As

newer media and entertainment venues open, many more will rise to claim a stake

in this growing industry.

In the beginning there were only Doordarshan, All India Radio, and the Indian

film industry. (Amitabh Bacchhan has famously expressed his reservations with

the term Bollywood, and Bacchhan's knowledge of Indian cinema is considered by

many to be better than that of the Oxford English Dictionary.)

After years of tranquility in the Indian broadcast scenario, came the Iraqi

invasion of 1991, and with it the Indian masses woke up to the reality and the

possibility of receiving something other than Doordarshan on their television



But there was no clamoring among the masses to watch the video games shown by

CNN. Then, in 1993 came a cataclysmic event-the Hero Cup. The BCCI and the

Cricket Association of Bengal decided to make some money from these matches and,

in the process, prevented Doordarshan from claiming its till-now fundamental

right to telecast these matches, for little or no monetary consideration.

Doordarshan had claimed that its benevolent act of broadcasting a cricket match

was in the national interest.

The courts have since decided on the issue. The broadcaster's use of the

airwaves can no longer be allowed to go on unregulated, and ever since, the

government has been coming out with one attempt or another to put a

comprehensive broadcasting regulation in place, with little or no success.

Nobody should doubt the need for regulation. Even the harshest critics of

regulation will agree that regulations double up to provide the industry

protection from an arbitrary government. And in any case, it is the duty of any

sovereign government to regulate, and it cannot let the 200 different channels

to come out with disparate (even if well intended) codes for their programming.


A Good Beginning or too Late?

It is interesting to note that broadcasting has been around for a much

longer time than the cable television networks. But the Cable TV Act has been

around for about a decade now, and there are no signs that a comprehensive act

regulating the broadcasting industry is on the horizon.

SK Arora, secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting, says that the

current draft of the Broadcasting Bill is the 19th, and he adds that this is

neither the beginning nor the end of the process, but the process is in the


However, with the march of technology and the growing adoption of digital

broadcast technologies (IPTV and mobile TV to name a few), the broadcasting bill

could soon become redundant, at best. The worst-case scenario would be that this

law would extend to the new, digital broadcast technologies and the story of the

Telegraph Act holding sway over the modern broadcast industry could end up being

repeated all over again.


With about 200 different

channels beaming across India, self regulation may be the only way out

Therefore, before discussing what the bill contains, it may help to point a

few things that it does not. The bill deliberately steers clear of technologies

like IPTV, mobile TV, and any Internet-based broadcasting. The secretary assures

us that this is deliberate, because it would be a good idea to see how the

industry grows, and then look at what needs to be regulated and how. However, it

is a process that has to be expedited as broadcasting increasingly touches the

IT Act, Copyright Act etc, and if these acts are not rationalized with a

broadcasting code now, harmonizing them at a later date would be increasingly


The simple reason for this disconnect appears to be that broadcasting today

involves at least the following: the IT ministry, the communications ministry,

I&B ministry, and TRAI. Barring Pradip Baijal's parting gift (to be fair,

among the many parting gifts) in the form of Recommendations on Issues relating

to Convergence and Competition in Broadcasting and Telecommunications; and the

I&B ministry's lead (albeit crippled for lack of enthusiasm in the other

ministries), the others have put broadcasting on the back burner. Even the TRAI;

Ashok Mansukhani, president, MSO Alliance, is constantly washing its hands off

on many of the issues that are brought to it, restricting its regulatory

activities to cable TV only.


The bill also excludes making guidelines for broadcast content, except in

broadest terms. However, it clarifies that a content code will have to be

arrived at.

And notably, it exempts public broadcasters from certain provisions that the

other broadcasters see as unfair. The foul is being called because the public

broadcasters are conveniently understood to Doordarshan and All India Radio. KVL

Narayan Rao, director, NDTV, raises a valid point on defining the public service

broadcaster. Since Doordarshan does commercial programming also, and the news

channels cover a lot of issues that are in the public interest-should all news

channels be given the benefits of public service broadcasters?

The Bill of Fair

The bill is not a lengthy piece of document, so we discuss only the

contentions aspects, the ones that have the industry up in arms (even if in

disparate voices).


BRAI: To begin with, there is a

proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India, and its very nature and

composition is already under attack. Its funding is supposed to be through

grants-in-aid from the government, while the licensing money, it will collect

will go to the Consolidated Fund of India.

As the secretary puts it plainly, the industry has come to be regulated

through various guidelines and regulations for cable operators and MSOs etc and

these are already being enforced by the government. So, most of what the bill

proposes to dispose though a broadcasting regulator is already being done.

CATV Vindicated: But, rather than

being a consolation, this is exactly what is sending shivers down the

industry's spine. The bill proposes to replace the Cable Televison Network

(Regulation) Act, and the experience with the Cable TV Act has not been

encouraging. In fact, so harried have cable operators been with this Act, that

they are viewing the proposed bill as being too soft, compared to the Cable TV

Act. Roop Sharma, president, Cable Operator's Federation of India demands that

the relatively soft 'bill' replace the Cable TV Act immediately, even as the

broadcasting industry is crying hoarse that the proposed bill is a draconian

piece of regulation. The powers of the seizure and confiscation are a case in

point, wherein any authorized officer can seize the broadcaster's equipment on

the suspicion that the broadcast is unlicensed, or if directions of the Central

government (issued in public interest) are not carried out. CATV has almost

resigned to this interference as being a part of its business. Sharma even

alleges that the bill is not being brought in to correct the inadequacies of the

Cable Act, but for the benefits of broadcasters. Why else, she argues, is the

bill so repugnant to broadcasters even though they saw it fit enough for CATV

operators for over a decade now? In fact, her association welcomes the bill, for

it will end the discrimination between broadcasters and CATV operators.

The need is

for a balance and the freedom of smaller and local broadcasters needs to

be preserved. Whether it has to be done by restraining the big player, is

open to debate

Like the CATV operators then, the bill proposes that all broadcasters will

have to obtain a licence. This licence cannot be obtained as a matter of right

and can be revoked for reason such as: the content being broadcasted does not

conform to the content code, or is not in the national interest. And since there

is no code yet, the program and advertising code of the Cable Act is proposed to

be continued.

Is this Cricket?: For historical

reasons perhaps, the bill mandates the sharing of 'certain sports broadcast

signals'. The government will have the right to declare certain sporting

events (national and international) as events of national importance and

licensed broadcasters will have to simultaneously share the live feed and radio

commentary with DD and AIR-without the advertisements.

Cross-media Ownership: Another

contentious issue is of cross-media ownership. The bill proposes that the

government should actively prevent monopolies across different media segments as

well as within the segments. It prevents content broadcasters from having more

than 20% share in the broadcast network operators, and vice versa. The icing to

the anti-monopoly stance of the bill is that there will be prescribed ceiling on

the number of channels that a content broadcaster can have. If this provision is

allowed, it is argued (as always), that the investment in broadcasting will

decline, especially as these investments have a very long gestation period. In

support of this provision, Sharmila Tagore, chairman, Central Board of Film

Certification, cites numerous examples where viewers have lost real choice as

almost all the channels are showing similar content. She says the primary

objective of media regulation in a democracy is to preserve and protect the

citizen's fundamental right to information and freedom of expression.

She quotes, “In many cases, not only is the content globalized, but also

the intent to shape local opinion to external agenda.” However, the question

to ask here is: Is it necessary (or even feasible) that global giants would be

countered by numerous small players? The counterpoint of course is that all

monopolies behave similarly in an open market. Obviously, the need is for a

balance and the freedom of smaller and local broadcasters needs to be preserved.

Whether it has to be done by restraining the big player, is open to debate.

The other problem with this ceiling on cross-media holdings is that by the

time this bill is enacted as a law, a lot of cross-holding patterns may have

emerged. Will the bill then have to make provision for forced divestment from

existing businesses? It is noteworthy that players like Zee, owner of Siticable,

are seeking 3G spectrum. And, how will it accommodate issues like triple play

and quad play, with even the Cable TV Operators of India eyeing 3G spectrum for

providing mobile TV and broadband.

Can Yan Cook?: Remember the

'Yan Can Cook' shows in the early days of STAR TV? And the early Sony TV

programming? Well, foreign channels would no longer be able to dump programs to

the Indian audience. Content produced in India must be 15% of their weekly

programming. While that is laudable, certain issues will need more discussion.

How will the channels, PTV or Nepal TV cope with this stipulation, or is it that

these channels will not be considered for licensing? The 'As seen on TV'

type of programs are already making their way to otherwise serious channels.

Will these programs count as 'local'?

You Live to Serve: The bill also

proposes that 10% of programming and commercial time will be for public service

programming, as specified by the government. The most disturbing thing here is

that this programming will not be dictated by the BRAI, but by the government.

While in the hands of anybody, such power is prone to abuse, in the hands of a

political party in power, it is sure to be abused, as in the India Shining

campaign. At least in the hands of the regulator, there would be a semblance of

objectivity in deciding such public service broadcasting regulations.

Alok Singh