All broadcasters in those days were foreign broadcasters as they uplinked their signals from outside India. Hence, they were outside the reach of Indian Laws. Result was that the broadcasters did what they liked, making their channels ‘Pay’ and charge arbitrary rates for them blaming the cable operators for under-declaration and other issues. The bill that was scheduled to pass in the present monsoon session of the Parliament, may not see the daylight as it has started facing objections in the very first stage. It has created a “cat and dog” fight between the broadcasters and the government.
The broadcasters are shouting over the issues that the present provisions in the bill are violating the freedom of press. Surprisingly, when such provisions were made a part of the existing Cable TV Act in 1995, none of these broadcasters had any objections. Not only this, similar regulations are a part of the broadcasting laws in various nations, such as France, USA, UK, Canada, Australia and Europe where these foreign broadcasters are adhering to them happily since many years.The box on the side depicts the current broadcasting policies prevailing in India. These policies have already put the cable operators and the broadcasters in a tight spot.
Broadcasting Policies Prevailing in other Countries are as follows:
1. limit the type of content that can be transmitted—hardcore pornography for example is banned in most countries, whereas in some countries broad censorship rules exist;
2. restrict the source of the content—limits on ‘foreign content’ (Canada and the EU);
3. imposing of must carry rules on cable and satellite providers that mandate programming to be carried on local channels, news, public channels, political broadcasts, therefore limiting the number of additional channels that could be provided;
4.imposing domestic content production requirements on television channels (the UK, Italy, France, Portugal, Canada);
5.imposing black-out requirements preventing the local broadcast of a local event (normally a sports event, a match between a local team and another team), an event broadcast elsewhere in the country;
6. restrict the form of broadcast —so-called listed events, events (again mainly sports) which must be carried ‘free’ on over the air television, e.g. UK, Italy;
7. limit on who can own what broadcasting/content.
The broadcasters have been creating a hue and cry over the provisions of the Draft Broadcasting Bill. If we glance over the European and UK content regulations, we will find that both the continents have certain regulations in common. Both have a regulation of providing certain amount of the programming system for public service messages.There is nothing new when Indian Government wants 10 per cent of their programming and advertising time for public service messages. Apart from this, Europe has a regulation that an independent body should be established to monitor the media market. Setting up of a Broadcast Authority of India is in line with this. Even the earlier Draft Broadcast Bill in 1999 talked about setting up such an authority. In a market like India where major broadcasters are foreign, there can be no reliance on self regulations that the broadcasters keeping harping on.They will always think of the morality standards of their parent country while making their self regulatory norms rather than carte for the Indian standards. They make content for the global market and sell the same all over the world. It is up to the local governments to look after the interest of its people and impose restrictions or lay down regulations to suit them. A developed and advanced country like Canada too wants 60% of the content on a TV channel to be sourced from the country itself.
Broadcasters are unhappy over the fact that no content broadcasting service provider and its associated company should have more than 20 per cent share of paid-up equity and cross-ownership. Even the content regulations of USA and Australia state that no broadcasting company can hold more than one licence. In similarity to the Indian Draft Broadcasting Bill, FCC also has the regulation that broadcasting company will not be allowed to transmit anything defamatory to the identified person or the group. Even the transmission of obscene content is strictly prohibited as this may go against the morality and culture of the nation. The Draft Broadcasting Bill has made the broadcasters “fall for prayer”. This bill has given certain vested powers to the government that will authorize them to curb the freedom enjoyed by broadcasters. Some of them are:
i Section 4(2) in chapter 2, empowers the government to refuse or cancel the registration of a TV channel, without any check and balances, if the registration of a channel is a threat to the national security, national integrity or public order, or if logo/symbol matches any other organization or a terrorist organization. This will make the channels watchful over the transmission of their content.
ii According to the section 5(1) of chapter 2, government will have the power to take charge and manage the broadcast of a programme at time of war, natural calamities etc. It can also suspend its operations or entrust public service broadcaster to manage it as per government directions. This will stop the channels to telecast the live happenings, which is of prime interest to the viewers.
iii Section 10(1)of the bill makes it clear that centeral government can prescribe eligibility conditions and restrictions with regard to accumulation of interest in the print and broadcast segment, to prevent monopolies.
iv Section 10(2) and 10(3) restricts cross-holding between one broadcaster and another, between broadcasters and network operators, and between broadcaster and FM Radio operators to maximum of 20 per cent.
v Section 10(4) restricts the total number channels and radio stations of a single broadcasting network to 15 per cent of the total in the country.
This will cut-down the subscriber base of every broadcaster.
vi Section 18 of the Cable Act says that no court shall take notice of any offence under the act, if the authorized officer does not make the written complaint.
vii Sections 23 and 24 of Broadcasting Bill are similar to the section 11 of Cable Act which states that any authorized officer has the right to seize the equipments of a cable operator in violation of legislation. The same thing will now be exercised on the broadcasters. Broadcasters are “raising their voice” over the inclusion of programming and advertising code in the Draft Broadcasting Bill. But it skipped from their mind that, these two provisions already exist in the Cable Network Regulation Act, 1995. They have started realizing the severity of these rules, because it will effects their business now.
There are certain gray points in the Bill that have called for attention:
viii As per the Bill, no broadcasting company will be allowed to own more than 20 per cent in any other broadcasting company like radio and television distribution company, like a cable operator or DTH. What will happen to broadcasters like Zee, Star, Sahara etc who have stakes in Broadcast Channels, FM Radio, Print Media, On Line Media, Cable Networks etc? will they all have to restructure.
1. Foreign channels will have to provide a minimum of 15 per cent space to the local content. Also, all the channels will have to give minimum of 10 percent space of their programme content and commercial advertising time for public service programmes and social message advertising.
2. No content broadcasting service provider shall have more than the prescribed share of the total number of channels and consumers in a city or a state subject to the overall ceiling of 15 per cent for entire country. Can we practically manage this when already some broacasters have huge market share?
Considering so much of opposition to the bill from the broadcasters’ lobby, the Information and Broadcasting minister, Shri. P R Dasmunshi has decided to involve industry stakeholders for further discussions, before the draft is presented in the parliament session. This may cause more delays to the introducction of the bill, which has been pending since many years. It may be remembered that Broadcasting Bill in various versions has been coming in the parliament since 1997. But, instead of the bill getting through, the governments fell. With CAS getting through and content regulations in, we hope the bill gets enacted within this year itself.