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HomeArticlesBroadcast BillPoliticisation of the Broadcasting Bill
Saturday, 13 October 2007 00:00

Politicisation of the Broadcasting Bill

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The very basis of our democracy's existence is Politics. But this mJL that was initially a method to have a favourable Government for the citizens, since long has been exploited in real sense. And today the situation has become so worse that 'Polities' is used in terms of Tactics' and not anything else. Tactics here mean the schemes that are played to let down others and ultimately upgrade own-self. The influence of Politics has been very far reaching and today we find it in every field of our life. Be it workplaces, colleges, societies etc.

It is the 'Broadcasting Bill1 that has always been a major target of the Politics of our country. But, Mind it... This attack has 'never been positive' or say 'always been negative'. Quote it this way or that way, the meaning remains the same but the impact worsens day by day. 

Call it co-incidence, call it fate or call it superstition but it is a fact that each time the Broadcast Bill was thought to be introduced in the Parliament, there was a political drama that deferred the Bill's presentation. Secondly, whenever the Broadcast Bill was stopped from being tabled in the House, it was because of political reasons. 

Among the stake holders we have thousands of cable operators who do not have money but have numbers; foreign broadcasters have money and International clout, Indian broadcasters have money and political clout. MSOs have less money but strong influence on the last mile in major cities i.e. access to the consumers on behalf of the broadcasters. Consumers are an important part but they are the most ignorant and can be influenced both by money and political power through their numerous consumer organizations that are always looking around for funds to keep alive. All these people try in their own way to influence the Government in the process of regulations for the country. The influence gains a lot of importance if elections are round the corner when the regulations are are being tabled in the Parliament. The start of the saga of the politicization of the Broadcast Bill can be seen from 1997 when the then ruling Government introduced the Broadcasting Bill in the Parliament. But before this was passed by the Lok Sabha, the 11th Lok Sabha was dissolved. So the Bill died an immature death. January 1998 was the reign when there was no political stability but it was highly needed for the broadcast regulations to be implemented. However, in March 1998 BJP Government came to power but only with the last moment manipulation by getting the support from TOP and AIADMK, because of which very few people had confidence in the stability of the new Government. On the other hand, the fresh established Government decided to present the Broadcasting Bill in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament. But the Government did not want to burn its finger like they did on Prasar Bharti Bill so they thought twice before introducing it. They knew that if this bill saw the light of the day, then the foreign equity and the cross holding in media would have to be specified creating more controversies. 

The Broadcasting Bill suffered next when it was nowhere in the agenda of the BJP Government for the Winter Session of 1998. And this was because Ms. Sushma Swaraj, the then I&B Minister was out of the helm thereby putting the entire thing on the back seat. Ms. Swaraj was one person who was completely devoted to bring regulations in the broadcast industry. During her tenure in the office she took ail possible steps in favour of regulating the industry. She had been in constant touch with the Cable Operators, MSOs, Broadcast Houses and the other stakeholders in order to understand the industry better and then bring reforms. But perhaps the efforts of Ms. Sushma were against the vested interests of some people. Possibly there could have been some pressure on the senior BJP leaders from some big broadcasters that was acting as a hindrance in the clearance of the Bill. 

And thus, to put the proceedings on the Broadcast Bill 'which were paced up by Ms. Swaraj) at a halt atleast for some ime, Ms. Sushma was chucked out of the Ministry. 

Though, the Prime Minister at that time did start looking ;fter the I&B Ministry but obviously no one could expect the

Call it co-incidence, call it fate or call it superstition but it is a fact that each time the Broadcast Bill was thought to be introduced in the Parliament, there was a political drama that deferred the Bill's presentation. Secondly, whenever the Broadcast Bill was stopped from being tabled in the House, it was because of political reasons.

bill's tabling under the supervision of a person who had no know-how about the department and its policies. Later, with Late Pramod Mahajan (the blue-eyed boy of the BJP hierarchy at that time) assuming the mantle of the Ministry, the Broadcast Bill issue which was earlier on the back seat went in the deep freeze. Reason being that Mr. Mahajan was a raw hand in the business and needed sometime to really start taking decisions. 

Dirty Politics again showed up in 1999. No sooner than the news about the Cabinet clearing some amendments to the Cable TV Regulations Act appeared in the Press in the beginning of 1999, our good old Jay Jay al a lit ha threatened the Government with the withdrawal of her party's support; on the issue of sacking of the Naval Chief Vishnu Bhagwat. And to refute the idiom 'Barking Dogs Seldom Site', Jayalalitha turned her threat into reality by actually denying further support to the then ruling government because of which the Vajpayee Government fell. Withdrawal of this support in mid 1999, made the people wait for the next elections. Since there was no political stability, all hopes went into the cold storage, atleast till the Government did not become permanent for sometime. 

But, yes we did have hopes to see that if something the contesting parties (at that time) had incorporated in their election manifestos for the Satellite Industry. 'What We Needed Then, Is What We Need Now' Regulations for the Broadcasting Industry or precisely say it the 'BroadcastingBill'. 

But, by this time people had started fearing from raising their hopes in favour of the badly needed regulations by the broadcast industry. This was because no previous government had lived upto its promises. Rather, the only emphasis of the ruling government was to undo whatever little the other had done in the past. 

Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) even banned the exit polls and analysis programmes which are the most popular ones on any channel during the elections. Even Cable TV operators got a raw deal as they were not permitted to run campaign cassettes of various parties on their video channels depriving them of 

Karunanidhi plans to start a state-government owned Cable TV business allegedly in the view of breaking the monopoly of Sumangali Cable Vision.

additional income. Restricting election campaigning on TV, which is the largest medium for publicities lead to a low turnout in the first phase. 

However, the election result was a welcoming one as the Vajpayee Government sustained its position in the democracy. And soon we greeted Mr. Arun Jaitley as our new I&B Minister. Mr. Jaitley was the person that the Ministry had been longing for. Since he had fought several cases in the courts on behalf of Zee TV and Star TV, the two ruling giants of the industry, it seemed that he was quite well aware of the ins-and-out of the industry. And probably he would not require much time to settle himself in the department as fighting cases for two of the largest broadcasters in India was not a small thing. Rather, this profession would have given him in-depth knowledge about the broadcasting business. And this background of Mr. Arun could possibly have been the reason for his keen interest in the broadcast industry. Mr. Jaitley even created history in his term in the office by meeting the Cable operators. Prior to this, no I&B minister had met this highly ignored but major fragment of the broadcasting industry. Jaitley's moves seemed to be quite determined to regulate the industry as soon as possible. And though for the n* time, but it did crop up the peoples' hope for the introduction of the Broadcast Bill once again. 

But it seems as if the Broadcast Bill has been bestowed with an unpleasant destiny. Each time the Government or an I&B Minister changed, the regulatory issues of the Broadcast Industry were derailed. Something similar happened when a previous highly committed Minister of I&B (Ms. Swaraj) who had taken an untimely, unexpected and unpleasant exit from the Ministry was again appointed in September 2000. Sushma who did not fear from her sacking in 1998, this time also headed the department with no major difference; and possessed the same dedication for the welfare of the industry. CAS was what she

first promoted and later got implemented during her reign in the Ministry. Just like her approach did not alter in her second time appointment, in the same way the Government's attitude also did not undergo any change. And yet again, the Government contradicted her efforts for the broadcast industry; this time by challenging CAS. 

One may argue that why only politics is being accused of deferring the broadcast bill because it were also the vested interests of the broadcasters that delayed its tabling in the Parliament. But many of us fail to recollect that even many Broadcasters are big political powers. Political parties have always been craving for their publicity and thus many politicians have started stepped into the broadcasting business. This way they are able to shoot two targets from the same gun. Firstly, they earn much more money as broadcasting has been proven to be a very lucrative business option. Secondly, they can control the media that they need so badly to keep up their political image and thus, use their own channels for their own publicity. 

This scene till date is quite dominant in the South India. The Maran family can be quoted as the biggest example for this dominance. Dayanidhi Maran who recently resigned from the post of Union and IT Minister is Kalanidhi Maran's brother who owns a Tamil newspaper, 'Dinakaran'. In addition to this Kalanidhi also owns 'Sun TV which is perhaps the largest regional TV network of Tamil Nadu. Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi even own 'Sumangli Cable Vision' that has monopoly in Cable TV business in key regions including Chennai and Madurai. And soon they will start their DTH venture too. 

On the contrary there's AIADMK's Jayalalitha who backs 'Jaya TV. Another political party, PMK's publicity chariot is 'Makkal TV. Then there is the recently launched Malayalam TV channel,' Jai Hind' in which the Congress party has a major stake. Similarly, the channel 'Kerali' is being supported by the political party, CPM. 

Owning channels by political parties almost seemed like a rule in Southern India when Raj TV started 'Kalaignar TV which is on the name of M. Karunanidhi, the DMK chief. This launch came immediately after the feud between Karunanidhi and Marans and when DMK realized that it had lost its touting tool. And now, Karunanidhi plans to start a state-government owned Cable TV business allegedly in the view of breaking the monopoly of Sumangali Cable Vision. So, though the mask may have been different but in every respect it has been 'the polities' that has hindered in the process of bringing the much needed reforms in the broadcast industry. 


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