SEPARATE BROADCAST REGULATOR
The I&B Ministry Has Made Statements That Point To A Long Term Roadmap For A New Regulator, Content Regulation & A TV Rating System Using Digital STBs.
On 5th April 2013, Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting - Manish Tewari said he would like to set up of a separate "techno-commercial" regulator for the rapidly expanding broadcasting sector.
Addressing the first meeting of an expert committee on Prasar Bharati in New Delhi, Tewari said he felt that the TRAI which currently serves as the broadcasting regulator was not originally supposed to carry out this function.
"Government has no intention of putting a regulator in the statutory space. When I talk to my friends in the media, I tell them I spent a fair amount of time in telecom courts, I am conversant with the TRAI Act, and I find it a bit of oxymoron, though some of my colleagues don't agree, that broadcasting was never supposed to be a part of the TRAI remit," Tewari said.
"But be that as it may broadcasting the whole universe has grown and expanded in such an exponential manner that maybe the time has come to look on the techno-commercial side - I underscore, underline, put in inverted commas - on the technocommercial side, the need for a separate broadcasting authority," he added.
Tewari noted that these ideas were not policy pronouncements of government but his personal views.
It does seem odd that the telecom regulator (TRAI) also handles broadcast regulations.
Years ago there was a loud call for a broadcast regulator. However, the then I&B minister made no effort to establish a suitable new authority. Maran was at that time the telecom minister. The Maran family has extensive stakes in Cable TV (SCV), Broadcasting (SUN Network) & DTH (SUN Direct).
Maran, with his extensive knowledge of the broadcast sector offered to make his ministry's - telecom regulator, to also take charge of broadcasting. The rest is history.
CONTENT REGULATION TOO
Interestingly, despite the I&B minister declaring a 'hands-off' approach to content censorship by the government, I&B secretary Uday Kumar Verma, said "There is a big concern about any broadcaster being very independent. Regulation seems to be an undesirable word. But let me tell you that there is no other country except India that does not have a regulator."
Verma cited the UK phone-tapping scandal that led to media baron Rupert Murdoch's tabloid News of the World being forced to shut down. After the incident, the UK media regulator's powers have been made "more effective through a royal charter", he added.
"Whatever may be the system of regulation, selfregulation, very independent regulation, or regulation supported by good and effective defamation laws-all these need to be brought into focus as far as broadcasting sector is concerned," said Verma.
NEW TV RATINGS
Verma warned that if the broadcasting sector does not put together an independent television rating system soon, the government will intervene and offer viewership data on its own.
"We have given a clear signal to the broadcasting and advertising industries that they have an independent television rating system in place by the middle of next year, failing which the government will not hesitate in asking TRAI. Infact we have already made a reference to the authority-to make sure that there are adequate guidelines in place for any TRP (Television Rating Point) generating entity," said Verma.
The I&B ministry reinforced Verma's statements. Tewari said the broadcasting industry was dragging its feet over the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the body jointly formed by television channels with the advertising industry for creating a new television viewership mapping system.
"One of the benefits of digitization (of cable television networks) would be the spin-offs or technological innovations possible," the minister said. "I believe that at ` 25 extra per (set-top) box or maybe lower, you would be able to have real-time data on who is watching what at what point in homes with set-top boxes. There is no need for the 8,000 meters then." This real-time data tracking device will piggyback on set-top boxes and monitor viewership habits, but broadcasters didn't warm up to the idea, he said.
"They thought we would use this information. We don't want this data. We are prepared, through a statutory regulation process, to hand it over to BARC so that it has an empirical model available whereby it can measure the industry," he added.
FUTURE ROAD MAP ?
Several industry observers believe that at this Prasar Bharti meeting, both the I&B minister and secretary outlined a future policy roadmap for the ministry. Their statements could therefore be of significant import.
However with the elections less than a year away the current I&B minister is practically a 'night batsman' who is not in a position to implement medium and long term policy. n