The Broadcast Bill confuses control with regulation
If you are all interested in the subject,
then you are probably
as weary and goggle-eyed as I am from perusing all the press reports
on the Broadcasting Bill. By the time one has read the STAR TV
plants, the Zee TV plants, the minister's little homilies on the
subject and the inspiring and inspired columns, it is hard to
know right from wrong.
But here, in a nutshell, is what I think is wrong with the Bill:
It confuses regulation with control.
The genesis of this Broadcasting Bill lies in a Supreme Court
judgment of February 1994, requiring the government to open up
the airwaves. The judgment would have been more dramatic had
it been delivered ten years ago when Doordarshan was the only
option. But coming as it did, after satellite technology had loosened
the government's hold on our television sets, it seemed much less significant.
Nevertheless, the judgment and a variety of small incidents (the
Nikki Tonight episode, for instance) convinced the information
and broadcasting ministry that some element of regulation
was required. This made sense on two levels. If we were going
to open up the airwaves, then we needed a mechanism to oversee
and regulate this opening up. And secondly, we also needed some
way of taking action when something like the Ashok Row Kavi/Mahatma
Gandhi storm broke out.
When Bhaskar Ghose was secretary in the ministry, he suggested
the formation of a Broadcasting Authority. Censorship was impossible
and undesirable. But some kind of review was both possible and
required. However, it was unacceptable to let a politician control
this review. Hence the idea of a Broadcasting Authority which
would be a cross between the Telecom Regulatory Authority and
the Press Council.
So far so good.
The problems arose when the I&B ministry presented this particular
draft of the Bill. It borrows the idea of a Broadcasting Authority
from Ghose but then destroys the spirit of his Bill by first
loading the Authority with government servants. And second, it
seeks not to regulate the television scene but to reinvent it.
The Authority itself will be government-controlled. Four of its
15 members will be secretaries to the Government of India and
its secretary-general will also be a serving secretary. The other
members will be selected by the chairman of the Press Council,
the I&B minister and the vice-president of India. Unlike the
Telecom Authority where Opposition figures are required to nominate
members, this Authority will end up being an I&B ministry
The nature of the Authority is in keeping with the spirit of the
Bill and its provisions. The Supreme Court had wanted to end government
control of the airwaves, not increase it. And yet, this is what
the Bill does.
Rather than ask the Broadcasting Authority to function as the
Press Council does and consider complaints against all channels,
it make it a crime (punishable with five years in jail) for cable
operators to carry any of the existing satellite channels.
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