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Broadcast industry seeks less control, more ‘ease of doing business’ from Centre

In response to the new guidelines proposed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) for uplinking and downlinking of private satellite channels and teleports that accords more to the home ministry, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has asked the Centre to simplify the approval process for licenses instead of adding more levels to it.

The IBF, a unified representative body of television broadcasters in India, has brought up issues such as timelines to permit new companies, or cases when a recognised broadcast entity, want to launch a new channel, change its logo, get a new board director without altering the shareholding pattern significantly, and so on. Channels believe security clearance by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is unnecessary and they should be permitted without the government trying to wield power over the industry.

The IBF responded recently to the draft guidelines that were released in April.

Industry chamber, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, (Ficci) has also issued suggestions echoing IBF’s sentiment. An MIB representative said what has been written in the draft document is based on existing procedures for MHA clearance, which TV channels undergo even today and that nothing new has been proposed. However, broadcasters see this as unnecessary politicisation of a mass medium.

“The idea is to control a platform that appeals to the lowest common denominator in the country,” a senior executive from a leading broadcast network said on condition of anonymity.

For instance, one clause of the government guidelines requires security clearance from the MHA every single time an entity launches a new channel, makes a new directorial or key managerial appointment or more than 10% change in shareholding of the company. At the same time, no timelines have been mentioned by the MIB for grant of permission to new entities planning to go on air. Raghva Bahl’s Quintillion Business Media, which had plans to operate a business news channel in a joint venture with Bloomberg, was unable to procure a broadcasting licence in the last three years and shut down its TV division in April.

“We believe that the security clearance process by MHA should be applied only once for the entity when it seeks permission from MIB for the first time and it should be exempted from the same every time it launches a new TV channel,” the Ficci draft said, adding that security clearance is a time-consuming process. Also, the threshold for substantial change in shareholding should be increased from 10% to 20%.

Channels also want that promotional activities such as change of logos and use of dual ones should be easily allowed in the current fiercely competitive broadcast environment.

“We feel that the distinction between news and non-news channels is substantially diluted in the proposed draft. Especially in terms of qualification, due diligence and monitoring, the requirements appear to have been collapsed into a list which subjects non-news TV channels to the heightened scrutiny that is required only of news media,” the IBF statement added.

The IBF added that it is necessary to provide statutory recognition to self- regulatory bodies such as BCCC (Broadcasting Content Complaints Council) and NBSA (News Broadcasting Standards Authority). Livemint

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