Mediaah! Why Ambika Soni is to blame for the delay in digitization

21 Jun,2012

By Pradyuman Maheshwari


I have been a huge fan of the current information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni. After the likes of Priyaranjan Dasmunshi and Anand Sharma, Madame Soni’s tenure came as a breath of fresh air. And a much-needed one, because she didn’t make life miserable for the broadcasters like her predecessors did (and I am told wanted her to).


The I&B minister’s job is a thankless one. Several hundred Parliamentarians and politicians, consumer groups, corporates, lobbies and alert citizens writing to her with comments and requests, and most of which cannot be ignored.  If Colors didn’t face any problems with Balika Vadhu or Star Plus didn’t have to pull out Sach Ka Saamna, it’s thanks to the minister warding off various pressures.


I think just keeping all these complainants at bay and letting the various players do their job is an achievement. She has also gently ensured that news and non-news broadcasters adopt a stringent (and effective) self-regulatory mechanism.


So what’s the problem? Well, part of it is thanks to successive I&B secretaries having short tenures. Uday Kumar Varma, the incumbent, also has a two-year stint prior to retirement or an extension. Mr Varma has the advantage of having worked with MIB in the past at senior positions so he didn’t spend a few months understanding the nuances of the job as a few of his predecessors may have had to.


Over the last few months, several industry captains and observers have told me that the ministry is inefficient which I have vociferously countered by saying Ms Soni’s achievements need to be counted by her proactive opposition to regressive forces. At least one CEO even told that me that I was too pro-MIB. Perhaps, but that’s because she’s not regressive.


However, the fact is that the ministry lacks the initiative to deliver on bold measures. Nothing happened with Doordarshan even as much was promised when it celebrated its golden jubilee in 2009. The radio sector is still floundering: there is still no news on radio even as television stations even in the most sensitive of zones in the country are allowed to air news. The minister wasn’t able to stand up to her colleague in the food and consumer affairs department on ad regulation and more recently it’s made a mess of the entire digitization process.


The Minister and her secretariat were aware of the requirements of the process, so even before accepting the TRAI regulations, they ought to have looked at whether the Sunset Date of June 30 was achievable. It wasn’t as most stakeholders told us.


Even now, as a few of the people familiar with the situation on the ground have told me that October 31 is going to be a tough ask.


It’s critical that the government monitors the execution carefully and ensures that there is no room for any further delays. Care must also be taken to ensure that the respective state governments and municipal corporations are taken into confidence… especially in Chennai and Kolkata.


As to those who raise the bogey that digitization puts television out of the reach of the lowest common denominator, the answer is that they can always access terrestrial transmission. Quality software must be paid for.


Meanwhile, all is not lost for the Honourable Minister. She must get aggressive on digitization and various other pending issues in her ministry. Or let history remember her as one more ineffective I&B ministers that India has had.


Buzz me if you have a story to tell. Confidentiality assured. There are various ways you can reach me:

pradyumanm[at], Gtalk, Twitter @pmahesh and of course the mobile: 98338 76278.  The views expressed here are my own.


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