Media tigers roar back at Minister Soni

11 Oct,2011

 

 

By Ritu Midha

 

Rewind to Anna Hazare’s Anti-corruption Movement. A senior Congress minister had then reportedly stressed on the need to curtail exaggeration in media reports.  News editors had expressed anger and dismay when MXMIndia spoke to them.

Read Will Anna Wave Link to Media Curbs? Link to: http://www.mxmindia.com/2011/09/will-anna-wave-lead-to-media-curbs-2/

However, the Government did not really take any such measures – and all was well until Friday, Ocober 7, 2011. (see MxMIndia disclosure below)

A proposal for amendment In Policy Guidelines for Uplinking/Downlinking of TV channels has been approved – and among other things this approved proposal  states,

‘Renewal of the permissions of TV channels will be considered for a period of 10 years at a time subject to the condition that the channel should not have been found guilty of violating the terms and conditions of permission including violations of the Programme and Advertisement Code on 5 occasions or more.’

Read the approved proposal here.( http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=76506)

Broadcasters are up in arms. Mr Sunil Lulla, CEO & MD, Times Global Broadcasting, told MxMIndia on Sunday: “The new guidelines have come as a shock.  More so, because the self-regulatory guidelines of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) have been shared with I&B Ministry. One had never thought such guidelines could be brought in.”

 

The NBA members too have collectively taken a strong objection to the guidelines.  A statement issued by Ms Annie Joseph, secretary general of the apex association, says: “Firstly there is no such requirement under the existing Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines for renewal. Secondly, there  certainly cannot be any power vested in the MIB to cancel or “refuse to renew” a broadcaster’s license on their subjective view that a television channel has violated the terms of the Uplinking and Downlinking guidelines or the provisions of the Cable TV Act.”

 

It further says, “The NBA urges the Government to urgently review the regressive decision which would be anathema to the constitutional framework of our country. NBA is seeking an urgent appointment with Ms Ambika Soni, Hon’ble Minister for I&B, to explain and clarify the concerns of NBA.”

 

And here comes the twist in the tale. An unnamed person from the I&B department expressed surprise at the protest, saying that the government had in fact increased the number of violations from the present three to five.

However, news broadcasters do not believe that the government has the right to decide on what makes for public interest and what does not. Says  Mr NK Singh, General Secretary, Broadcast Editors’ Association, “How will the government decide what is in public interest. Section 19 of the Indian Panel code, that speaks of Freedom of Expression, does not give the right to the government the right to decide Public Interest. The Government has no right to punish – for that we have the judiciary in the country.  No bureaucrat can decide content code. “

 

When asked should the BEA not be happy considering that actions would now be taken after five violations instead of three earlier, Mr Singh states, “Well, did the government say that media has been doing a good job – and so the limit has been extended?  What the government is doing is against the constitution.”

 

The guidelines are a reason for concern for existing players:  what about the channels, which already have five or more violations against their names. Is it a cause of concern for them, or would the slate be wiped clean now – and the violations counted effective today. Read the complete list here: http://mib.nic.in/writereaddata/html_en_files/content_reg/OrdersWarningsAdvisories.pdf)

 

While news channels are leading offenders, GECs are not far behind. There are also cases of all news channels being pulled for the coverage of the Mumbai terror attack. In the case of GECs, the objections have been both on programming and advertisements.

 

Does this mean that news channels will always be subjected to the whims of the government? The Broadcast Editor’s Association is definitely seeing red. Mr Singh states, “Content is jeopardised by the government. Does it mean that self-regulation by broadcasters has no value? ”

 

Mr Singh adds: “There would always be a threat – and more so after the fourth notice. It is not practical and none of the broadcast bodies have been consulted.  It is all the more unfortunate because it has come at a time when Indian media is doing its best. BEA strongly criticises the new guideline regarding content – it is against civilian law. The government must desist from such measures.”

 

Both the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) and News Broadcasters Asscoation (NBA) have regulatory structures and complaint cells. Channels also carry announcements at frequent intervals inviting viewers to lodge complaints, if any. And then we have the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the watchdog for advertisements, which has been a reasonably active player for over 25 years. The new guidelines make all of these bodies in a way answerable to the cabinet committee (or Electronic Media Monitoring Centre).

 

The NBA statement sums up the concerns of the fraternity:

“Most importantly, the proposed modification of the Uplinking and Downlinking guidelines is a direct assault on the self regulatory regime put in place by broadcasters, which has been encouraged and recognized by the MIB. Such proposed step is wholly retrograde and places broadcasters at the arbitrary mercy of the MIB; and is therefore a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression and will not be countenanced by the NBA.”

Clearly the government and I&B minister Ms Ambika Soni specifically must address the concerns of broadcasters. The request from the NBA to meet Ms Soni is a move in the right direction.

Update @ 10am According to reliable sources in the Ministry of Information and Boradcasting, representatives of leading television industry bodies are likely to meet Minister Ms Ambika Soni on today (Tuesday) afternoon.

 

Photograph: Fotocorp (File photograph of Ms Ambika Soni releasing a DAVP calendar for the year 2011)

 

Disclosure: MxMIndia is a firm believer in the freedom of the press and the self-regulatory route to check on content. We will take every effort in guarding this and ensuring that governments do not step in to police the media. However, we also believe that broadcasters must need to re-examine the content they air and help make the self-regulatory process a success.

 

Also, read print media reports on the issue:

 

The Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/cabinet-nod-to-tightening-eligibility-criteria-for-running-tv-channels/857167/

Mint: http://www.livemint.com/2011/10/10010542/Media-criticism-of-uplinkdown.html?h=B

Dainik Bhaskar: http://daily.bhaskar.com/article/NAT-TOP-govt-trying-to-control-independent-media-with-new-rules-tv-channels-2489322.html

The Hindu: http://www.thehindu.com/arts/radio-and-tv/article2521281.ece

The Times of India 1: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-10-08/india/30257931_1_downlinking-tv-channels-current-affairs-channels

The Times of India 2: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Govt-bid-to-gag-TV-outrages-broadcasters-libertarians/articleshow/10283957.cms

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