In a relief to broadcasters over the requirement to run 30-minute public service programmes daily on private television channels, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) has indicated adhering to this mandate would be voluntary.
The assurance was given during a crucial meeting on Friday between representatives of the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF) and ministry officials. The IBDF includes top television networks, such as Disney-Star, Sony, Zee, and Viacom18.
An industry executive present at the meeting confirmed this development to Business Standard. An MIB official said that a clarification would be issued shortly.
“The meeting was called to discuss issues and address apprehensions of broadcasters with regard to the public-service obligation. We will come out with a clarification on the matter in a couple of weeks,” the official said.
The public service broadcasting (PSB) obligation was part of the revised uplinking and downlinking guidelines issued by the MIB last month.
Private TV channels, excluding foreign, sports, and infotainment channels, were asked to comply with the aforementioned diktat by January 1 next year. But channels argued that it would affect commercial programming time, and thus result in a loss to the broadcaster sector to the tune of Rs 100 crore per month.
The IBDF indicated in a recent letter to the ministry that the regulation of 30 minutes of airtime for public service broadcasting would “gravely impact” the commercial interests of broadcasters.
“We recommend that the PSB stipulation is either deleted or explicitly made voluntary for broadcasters, and clearly provide for subsidy, tax incentives, CSR write-offs, etc, to those broadcasters which voluntarily engage in PSB,” IBDF stated in its letter dated November 18.
Executives in the know said that there was no discussion at Friday’s meeting about compensating channels, which were ready to air programmes of national importance and social relevance, in the form tax or financial breaks.
“That discussion did not come up. However, it is a relief that the MIB has at least agreed to make the guideline voluntary,” an executive in the know said.
At a press conference last month, while announcing the revised uplinking and downlinking guidelines, MIB officials argued that since airwaves and television frequencies were public property, there was a need to use them in the best interest of society.
“Eight areas of national importance and social relevance have been identified for discharging the service obligation,” I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra had said. “We will issue a general advisory regarding the modalities to fulfil the obligation,” he said.
Public service programmes included those related to education and spread of literacy, agriculture and rural development, health and family welfare, science and technology, welfare of women, welfare of the weaker sections of society, protection of environment and cultural heritage, and national integration.
Some of the other guidelines as stipulated by the government included setting up of teleports and teleport hubs, use of digital satellite news gathering (DSNG) and satellite news gathering (SNG) systems, as well as uplinking by Indian news agencies and temporary uplinking of a live event by channels. The government also asked broadcasters uplinking TV channels in a frequency band other than the C brand to do so by encrypting their TV signals. Business Standard