Peter Mukerjea: Dream On… after all we’re in March 2012!

12 Mar,2012

By Peter Mukerjea

 

So, if I were the next Minister of Information & Broadcasting for the Government (which is about as likely to happen as a month of Sundays) here are the 7 things I would want to do in my first 7 days of taking on the job. Sorry Ambikaji, this, of course, is not to say that you’re not doing a fine job, which you are – but like my school report card said term after term, ‘Could do better’.

 

1. I’d start with issuing a mandate to privatize Doordarshan asap and thus enable the public to buy shares in the new entity and operate it like a proper commercial organisation and remove all Government control over it. I’d call a Nandan Nilekani, Deepak Parekh kind of person and get him to take on the project of getting this done in no more than a year. He could in turn invite the world’s best financial gurus and merchant bankers to have them pitch for the job. Then to appoint a proper CEO and a management team to develop a growth plan for the business which would include online, social media, cable distribution and task them with getting on with that in the following 12 months. They would report to a Board and be accountable to them and the shareholders.

 

Benefit: The taxpayer would not need to fund DD any longer and its independence would be ensured. Profitability would emerge which would enable DD to become the largest media company in India and compete with the likes of STAR , ZEE or any of the international companies like the BBC or CBS or SKY or FOX. It would then attract the world’s best talent and be seen as a jewel in the crown for India. The company would bring about an amalgamation of all media activities under one roof and take its place in the list of leading companies of the world. If the Oberois can do that with their hotels, there’s no reason why that cannot happen with DD.

 

2. I’d create an OFCOM (the regulator in the UK) like organization who would be responsible to the Minister for all the regulatory issues and they would have the power to prosecute and de list broadcasters if they didn’t follow the letter (and spirit) of the law. This would be run by socially responsible individuals with distinction and standing in the community.

 

Benefit: This would in turn, enable the various media organizations in the country to be mindful of their social and legal responsibilities and not abuse the same. OFCOM would also be required to ensure that the people that run these various media companies are categorized as ‘fit and proper persons’ to do so. Managing media will then not be the direct responsibility of the Minister who could then take an unbiased view on issues if they were ever escalated to the Minister.

 

3. I’d call TAM and get them to install an overnight rating measurement system and give them one year to do that. No more. Meanwhile, to expand the current system to include rural markets across India and to do this in 6 months. If they were not able to commit to getting this done I would invite other Research and Technology companies from India and the world over to replace TAM.

 

Benefit: We would move industry to the 21st century and be similar to other developed markets where overnight ratings are the norm. This will help broadcasters , content producers and advertisers alike and will also be a reflection of the consumer. The expansion of the measurement universe would benefit the country as whole and content providers and advertisers would then pay more attention to the needs of the rural consumer and this will help the current imbalance between the urban and rural.

 

4. All news channels in the country, both Indian and foreign would be required to present their credentials via a barometer of measurement which is based on quality, integrity and depth of journalism rather than GRP’s (ratings) alone. This would apply to all forms of news – be it entertainment, sports, business, current affairs, social etc.

 

Benefit: The consumer would benefit by being presented with news reporting which is responsible and credible but not driven solely by sensational and scandal. Maybe there will be a news channel from India that will emerge to compete with the BBC or CNN in international markets. Here again, if Infosys can be world class, there’s no reason why a news channel from India cannot be world class.

 

5. I would remove all financial barriers immediately to foreign participation in all media and would therefore allow 100 percent FDI in media and media related technology businesses. However, those owning and running these media and technology companies must be Indian nationals as is the law in the US.

 

Benefit: This will attract the world’s largest companies to participate in the growth of Indian media and speed up digitization and internet connectivity in the process. This would provide a base for on line connectivity for all, across the length and breadth of the country from the smallest of villages to the largest of cities which would in turn accelerate communication and exchange of information for all Indians everywhere.

 

6. I would remove all price control mechanisms instantly for the pricing of cable TV & internet connectivity provided by cable operators, MSO’s, DTH and other service providers as this would urge them to provide their services at prices that are market driven and competitive. None of these services are ‘essential commodities’ and therefore should not come under the purview of price control. However, each such service provider would be required to provide channels from each available genre, in proportion to the viewership they attract e.g. GEC channels – say 25 percent, News say 5 percent, Sport – say 10 percent, Natural History – say 5 percent, Music – say 5 percent, languages – 50 percent and so on.

 

Benefit: The consumer would benefit the most as services would be provided at commercially viable rates and the quality of service would undoubtedly be enhanced as the various service providers would compete to retain and grow their consumer base for their custom, by improving service levels and quality. The Government should have no role in pricing media and entertainment services.

 

7. All private FM radio stations would be free to broadcast news and current affairs, weather, traffic info, business news, for as long as they feel is commercially viable. Private FM radio stations would also be free to broadcast any genres that they choose to and the license fee for each genre would be adjusted (by OFCOM) according to the value of the genre – ie talk radio, sport phone in, 24-hour news & current affairs, Bollywood music, Indian classical music, education, health, western pop music, western classical etc etc.

 

Benefit: Consumers across the country would then receive news on their FM radio stations and be informed rather than exist in the dark as they are currently. If we believe that the right to information is a democratic right for all , then we must live upto that ideal and enable private FM radio stations to provide a news service to their listeners 24 x 7.

 

I doubt that any of these will see the light of day in the near future but I do hope that decision-makers in India will move quickly to turn all of these into reality as they will help the media industry in India to reshape and reinvent and become truly ‘world class’. Or else we can dream on!

 

Post a Comment 

26 responses to “Peter Mukerjea: Dream On… after all we’re in March 2012!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear Peter, Have always been a great admirer and fan of yours, obviously have worked with you, though not directly.

    Each and every point you have raised and mentioned is valid and who better to implement it than you.

    But there are few things I would like to add to make it more realistic.

    First declaration of all the powers behind each of the TV channels/network, fm station, media houses. Source of funding from business houses, political affiliations, etc., basically who is controlling it and what is the purpose of the moneybags behind the media business. All should be in public domain.

    Ofcom is an awesome idea. But I remember in one of my job earlier I had a reply from an actor, who was censor board head, where I had demanded that what is the barometer of self censorship on TV and why it can’t be defined by the law makers so everyone can follow it rigidly. To which that actor replied that it is not their job, each network has to work with their own conscience… I thought this was the most ridiculous and frivolous reply…. Point is who will monitor such bullshitters are not placed in those important position???? And can a body like OFCOM possible in the scam ridden “jholu” country

    How much American influence will there on the news media to play out their agenda? Who monitors it?

    What is the law to govern the cable industry, piracy and are there any legal punishments for people running the media business running their front companies and ensuring the maximum content/business is acquired through their front company? Will there be law and punishment against the head honchos, especially heads of TV network, who route most of the content and other business through their front companies?

    Will the Hindi news channels be dubbed as low cost entertainment channels and their subsidy taken away?

    Will there be a body monitoring the news channels stars, such as Arnab, Barka, Rajiv etc, ensuring that they are not running their own agenda?

    Will there be a real body with all the powers to stop the BABUS running the country from dictating their terms????

    Will these super corrupt politicians will ever allow this ideal situations even to be thought about, besides social media?????

    Would love to hear from you.
    Johuasohua

  2. sankar says:

    shankar- you’ve got your head up your ass.

  3. Shankar says:

    Why was INX shut, this is all crap !

    • peterm says:

      maybe your’e right & it is all crap! but to my knowledge 9XM and NewsX, which were part of INX channels, have not shut and are still up and running. 9X was sold as there was no more money to run it. simple.

    • peterm says:

      the irony is that, if you are who i think you are, i would be saying the same thing and asserting that it is all crap! adopting any of these suggestions ( apart from news on FM radio, will affect your business model big time. self serving interests always take priority over idealistic ones ! that’s a fact of life.

  4. Priyadarshini Kohli says:

    I think this is fantastic and I agree with everything that you have said, but honestly taking on DD is like taking on an old, ailing monster….may be salvaging Kingfisher would be a better bet!

  5. MB says:

    Dear Sir, Your ideas are always superb, we are waiting for you.

    • peterm says:

      thanks MB. Please don’t wait for me as it could be a long wait!
      there are things that can be done by many highy capable people in the country today. but it’s worth a thought. pm

  6. John says:

    Dear Mr Minister, With 400+ news channel licenses already issued, it’s hard to see why radio can excluded from news broadcasting any longer. So maybe that anomaly could move up your list. Even from my buccaneering background, I’d contend there are some public service requirements which broadcasting can provide that The Market would ignore, so maybe that needs to be preserved at DD, while the more marketable aspects are freed/ privatised for aggressive dividends which are part profit and part public service subsidy. Transparent ownership-so-control will certainly become a problem in a financially destabilised industry, so an Ofcom to set a level and transparent playing field would look to be vital to the national interest. And in doing that an Ofcom would take care of those other 4 points as well. But what to do after lunch ?

    • peterm says:

      Lunch is long overdue and it’s time we sorted that out first! Thanks for your points and appreciate your input.
      Yes – News on Radio is a good place to start and should be higher up on my list.
      Wrt public service needs and issues, these can surely be resolved ever so quickly and effectively by mandating a certain amount of commercial time which HAS to be dedicated to that, by each channel.

  7. Sai Nagesh. says:

    Hey Pete,
    Each one of the points that you have raised are absolutely valid and there’s no reason whatsoever that they cant come true…..after all, the largest populated State in India has just got a tech-savvy, 38 year old as the Chief Minister !!
    What’s required is the right Catalyst and there could be no better person than you ! Except for the DD part which would definitely require you to be the I&B Minister, the others need not necessarily require you to be so…….as Vanita rightly said..come back & start off by heading the IBF.
    Cheers !!!

    • peterm says:

      Good to see a 38 yr old CM in India. Hope it works for the state ! The IBF is the Indian Broadcasting Foundation and is headed by the CEO of the largest Foreign media company ( in terms of audience reached and revenue generated ) in India. Isn’t that an irony in itself ? It’s a case of ‘ leaving a fox in charge of the chicken coup ‘. What would you expect ?
      These anomalies need to be cut through right away in order for the IBF to be a meaningful body that can reach out to Government and aid decision making.

  8. Alfred says:

    Great thought Peter, improvisation of content for viewers, saving tax money, encourage overseas investment in the economy. Its great WIN WIN situation for all…Cheers

  9. Anant Rangaswami says:

    Peter,
    As always, thought provoking. Agree with Vanita; the incumbents do not want any change in the status quo.
    The IBF, TAM, ASCI, etc, are all falling way short of what they are designed to do. As each fails, the government will attempt to regulate, as they are attempting with the National Consumer Protection Agency, which will oversee unsubstantiated claims in advertising.
    I’m not sure I agree with you on DD, though.. it’s too big a mess for someone to take over. A bit like someone taking over Indian Airlines…
    Each of your thoughts deserves a seperate debate and discussion, so perhaps that gives you food for thought for the next couple of months on MXM.

    • peterm says:

      Anant, Thanks for the tip and your comment .Expanding on each of these thoughts over the next few months may well be a good way to develop a series of conversations which may one day reach the right people.
      I think the issue with IBF& ASCI is that they’re trying to be a platform that serves the interest of it’s members rather than the industry. Being all things to all cannot serve anyone- least of all the industry. Obviously the Minister or the Government will never take them seriously until they are clear that the membership have the consumer and the industry at heart, rather than themselves.
      As for DD, it’s never too big a mess to sort out.
      Some would say that ‘ if it’s not tough- it’s not worth doing’ !
      I can’t say anything about Indian Airlines as i’m simply not qualified to comment.pete

  10. Vanita Kohli-Khandekar says:

    Peter, You wishlist is what I have been writing about for all these years. Especially the independent regulator bit which I have been pushing for long. None of the big CEOs like the idea, but I do think its time has come. You have my vote too. Why don’t you just come back to India and head the IBF! Vanita Kohli-Khandekar

    • peterm says:

      Vanita, I’m sorry if i sound as though i”ve stolen from your writings. i didn’t . Simple co incidence. In any case G…. minds think alike – and fools seldom differ – or something like that is what they say. But jokes apart- i do feel these issues are crippling the industry and slowing down growth to a snail’s pace when it could be so much larger. And it wouldn’t take a genius to work them through.
      So,within this short list of 7 there are some low hanging fruit
      – news on FM radio, independent regulator, overnight ratings, removing cable price caps & permitting 100 % FDI for instance.
      And hey, why do you think CEO’s don’t like the idea of a tough independent regulator? It’s because theyr’e the first ones to feel the pain of the regulators whip as they will have to tow the line and keep to the parameters of commercial minutage which will impact their revenues. But they will see the sense in it if they can see the rise in the prices of this commercial time – which is inevitable – but it cannot happen if only some of them try to do it. There will be always be others who will rock the boat. So – it has to be regulated !
      Running IBF is a thankless job and they have to be more like a NASSCOM and less like a boys’ club.

  11. Mahir Prasad says:

    Great read and very valid point raised.

  12. Ankur Chopra says:

    Sir, I am sure that this article of yours will light few lamps back home 🙂 Excellent ideas which are implementable like yesterday. Am sure that in few years we shall see progress in State broadcasting in India:).

    Regards

    Ankur

  13. Alex Butt says:

    Very interesting and informative. You have my vote for the new Information & Broadcasting minister 🙂 Liberalisation can and has worked in a country like India but as we all know there are quite a few barriers for success: corruption, inertia, self-interests, protectionism and such like.

  14. Media Ninja says:

    All very solid points and I agree in full, bar the price control on internet access. I’d argue that this is (especially for it’s role in enabling a democracy) an essential commodity whose price should be protected to ensure maximum availability.

    As for the other points – It is outrageous and damaging that the commercial arm of the TV industry isn’t underpinned by a robust ratings system and that the editorial arm is not given a clear set of parameters by a regulatory authority.

    The current set up (and you can say the same for many an industry) fuels a currency of individual patronage and corruption, creating an uneven playing field that stifles innovation and investment.

    @ Farid and Pradeep – all it takes for bad media practice to prevail is for good media practicioners to do nothing!

    • peterm says:

      hi media ninja,
      Thank you for seeing it right away. The ratings system needs a super overhaul and in this day and age with telephony penetration in such high numbers across the country – there’s no reason apart from lame excuses and vested interests, why the indian broadcast industry is still struggling with a few thousand measured homes, when there are millions of homes watching TV.
      Who’s making a monkey of whom?
      And why are advertisers not putting their foot down and getting it resolved.
      And the icing on the cake for me was when the CEO of the largest foreign broadcaster had the foresight to suggest that ratings should now be moved to a monthly – yes MONTHLY reporting – so that content providers could have time to allow their story lines to develop and advertisers should stick their necks out to support these shows and wait for the month to see if it was working! Talk about living in cuckoo’s land !
      I’m surprised the ratings companies didn’t bite his hand off- but they were probably recovering from being too stunned by the thought of it!
      In many ways- what’s worse than good media practitioners doing nothing is probably – senior media practitioners making inane demands.

    • Pradeep Prabhu says:

      Hi Media Ninja,

      There is no good media left in the world today. All that exists are different shades of grey.

      Media is reduced merely to be the mouthpiece for powerful parties to present their side. There’s a reason the public holds journalists in only slightly higher esteem than bankers. Over the past decade, we haven’t had a very good track record at sticking to our principles of seeking the truth, and reporting it.

      Weapons of mass destruction? Made up, and newspapers published tenuous pretexts for war almost as quickly as the White House came up with them. The mortgage crisis? Foreseeable, but somehow almost every major business reporter missed it. Climate change? Yeah, journalists were still trying to give both sides of that “debate” equal time for a long time after the science was settled beyond a reasonable doubt.

      Where was good media all this time? The specifics come in much later. First, we need to agree on the basis of where this stems from.

      Personal opinion.

      Pradeep

  15. Farid Kureshi says:

    Very incisive stuff Peter but i doubt that any of this will materialize anytime soon! Like they say “The rebels are in the ravines but the dacoits are in Parliament ! 🙂

  16. Prabhupradeep says:

    Most of the suggestions in your post Peter are very very radical for the current government. As you rightly said, many of these will not see the light of day in the near future. I guess dreaming is what we need to do until then!

    Pradeep

    • peterm says:

      pradeep- thanks but unless you buy a lottery ticket – you won’t win. and i’ve always believed in the concept that ‘ reality is for those – who lack imagination’.
      Didn’t Martin Luther King say – ” I have a dream … “

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