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Journalist bodies raise alarm over proposed Broadcasting Services Bill

he National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ), the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), and the Andhra Pradesh Working Journalists Federation (APWJF) join the Network of Women in Media India, (NWMI) and the Editors Guild of India and others – have expressed “grave reservations” against the proposed Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023. They describe it as a “gateway to censorship”.

In a joint statement the NAJ, DUJ, and APWJF say that this proposed Bill is a step further “to expanding a new era of undeclared censorship” and increasing government control over all types of media from TV channels, to films, and platforms like Netflix and Prime Video, YouTube, radio, even Instagram and other social media platforms as well as news websites and journalists.

The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 comes on the heels of the Telecom Act of 2023, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, and the IT Amendment Rules, 2023.

According to the statement, the Broadcasting Bill blurs the distinction between journalism and content creation. “The definition of news and current affair has been deliberately left so broad that all sorts of online media can be controlled through it. It clubs together both broadcast and digital media, although broadcast media includes the big channels while digital news media channels are often small outfits run by one or two persons.”

It goes on to add, “Many clauses, particularly those relating to self-censorship, are completely impractical given the nature of small news media. Some dangerous clauses include the power to seize electronic devices including studio equipment. There are apprehensions that the Bill could muffle independent voices including those of YouTube journalists, news analysts and digital websites.”

As an alternative, the journalist outfits say such a Bill could wait till the formation of a common body like a Media Commission of India comprising experts and stakeholders who could look into all aspects of self regulation rather than inviting government control.

“Today there exists a wide spectrum media, ranging from print, broadcast, digital to TV and other media and it is not possible to regulate it through such measures. Instead, it is necessary to organise extensive consultations with all stakeholders, look into the common grievances’ and seek common solutions. Decisions made without democratic consultations could smack of authoritarianism.”

They allege that the Broadcast Bill “is being pushed in a hurry and could be yet another attempt to curb independent thinking, protest and dissent. It should be immediately rolled back.”

According to the statement, “the Bill is ominously, inexplicably silent on the concentration of media ownership in big corporate hands which is itself a big threat to freedom of expression and diversity of opinion”. The Wire

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