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Govt not to consult media on new legislation

Friday, July 14, 2006

New Delhi (UNI): Despite strong protests by broadcasters, there was little likelihood of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry consulting them on the shape of the controversial draft Broadcast Bill before its likely introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament. The proposed legislation that is understood to have provided for sweeping powers to authorities to control media evoked widespread protest by both the print and electronic sector when its contents leaked out recently. However, the Ministry seems to have made up its mind on the non-requirement of any further consultation. This was clearly and strongly conveyed to media barons who met the Secretary S K Arora on Tuesday last, Ministry sources told UNI.

The secretary told a delegation of the Indian Media Group led by ZEE Group President Subhash Chandra that drawing up the legislation was the prerogative of the government and it may or may not consult the broadcasters at every stage. As for incorporating the views of public or stakeholders, it was up to Parliament to do that by placing it for discussion in the House and referring it to some of its select committees, the media representatives were told, according to officials in the Minsitry. They were, however, told by the Secretary that their request for consultation on the Bill will be conveyed to the government.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi also gave ample hint of the Ministry's intentions yesterday when he said representatives from the electronic media had already been consulted on the Bill and the government was now discussing the measure with print media. He again sought to assure the people that the Bill will be "most media-friendly legislation in the world" and was likely to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has been maintaining that there was nothing new in the Bill and the ''draconian measures'' as the media called it were already there under the existing Acts.

''What we have done is just to put together various Acts under one comprehensive Bill. So all the hue and cry made by broadcasters was not because of the freedom of the press being affected but because the Bill provides for a cap on crossmedia ownership,'' said a very senior officer of the Ministry. The bill proposes to cap cross media ownership at 20 per cent and restructure the shareholding pattern. That would mean that a broadcaster cannot have more than 20 per cent stake in another broadcasting network, a cable network or DTH or a radio network.

Just like FM radio operators, television networks too will not be allowed to own more than 15 per cent of the total number of channels. That comes to 30 at the maximum as there are a total number of around 200 channels registered in India. The Bill also limits the number of subscribers for cable and service providers to a maximum of 15 per cent. Representatives of the broadcasting industry feel that while anti-monopoly measures were welcome, the provisions in the bill will limit business options for players in the field, which was not good for the health of the industry.

Media tycoons in their latest meeting with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry told the government that they were for a uniform regulator in the broadcasting sector but firmly opposed move to put restrictions on cross-media and inter-media ownership, saying the Indian media is ''too nascent to warrant'' any ownership shackling. The Indian Media Group, which held a two-hour discussion with the Information and Broadcasting Secretary, also suggested that the law governing the Press Council of India should be amended to extend its authority as a regulator for the electronic media also. ''Cross-media and inter-media restrictions cannot be duplicated in India as applicable in developed countries like the US where there is a uniform language. India is, howerver, a pluralistic country with diverse languages. Moreover, the reach of print media in India is limited to not more than 20 per cent of the population,'' he said. Mr Chandra also pointed out that Indian media was in a nascent stage and required capital investment, greater manpower and technological upgradation.

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