Mediaah Report Card on Ambika Soni: 7/10

30 Oct,2012

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

Although I would hold her responsible for the mess that we have in digitization, Ambika Soni was among the better I&B Ministers we have had in the last decade.

 

In my report card, I would give her a 7 on 10.

 

In fact had it not been for digitization and the lack of gamechanging vision, she’s could’ve scored higher.

 

Remember she took over from Anand Sharma and earlier Priyaranjan Dasmunshi who had made life tough for industry practitioners.  Ms Soni’s tenure came as a breath of fresh air. Reportedly, the advisory she received from her predecessors was that she shouldn’t go easy on media biggies, but she would’ve none of that.

 

Everyone has a view on the content dished out on television and in the print media. Parliamentarians, legislators and politicians of all hues, consumer and advocacy groups, corporate, citizens, et al would engage with her to act on their demands. For instance, Balika Vadhu in Colors was found by some to be glorifying child marriage or Sach Ka Saamna and Bigg Boss were found to be unfit for family viewing. Ms Soni heard the complaints and kept the complainants at bay. The general entertainment channels must thank the former minister to ward off a variety of pressures.

 

I think just letting various players do their job with a nudge here and there was an achievement. Ms Soni also ensured that entertainment and news broadcasters work out an effective self-regulatory mechanism. This had had its share of hiccups in the past, but in her tenure it happened.

 

Ambika soni

But though her progressive outlook ensured that the industry benefitted, various factors pull her down in this appraisal. In fact, according to one magazine study a few years back, she was judged to be a non-performer.

 

Let’s look at the areas where Ms Soni failed:

 

1. Doordarshan. The pubcaster had turned 50 in 2009 and there was an opportunity to make it a more professional BBC-like body. Didn’t happen.

2. Radio. News on FM radio is not allowed due to some silly Home Ministry objections even as there are several cable channels in every nook and corner of the country.

3. Paid news. If paid news is being discussed much it’s thanks to the Election Commission and a section of the fraternity. The minister had an opportunity to cleanse the system, but she didn’t want to upset the holy cows in the business

4. Tougher on measures: Had she adopted a sterner stand and asked the industry to act faster, we wouldn’t have seen an NDTV taking TAM to court as BARC would’ve been set up and offered the necessary guidelines.

5. Digitization. Agreed it’s a bold measure and it’s in her tenure that it gained momentum and was being executed. But the fact that it didn’t was all thanks to the way her ministry went about the task. Even as there are just two days to go, 100 per cent digitization will take another two or three months to happen in the four metros.

 

Could this embarrassment have been avoided? Yes, of course.

 

I am also shocked at how and why she quit less than a week before what was decidedly the biggest thing in Media and Entertainment in the last decade. Bigger than DTH and other policy initiatives. Yes, it’s a good idea that a senior political leader goes back to help the party in the run-up to the elections, but why do it when the Sunset Date is just a week after?

 

Why did the Prime Minister allow her to do so? Why did the UPA chairperson allow it?

 

This, I guess, is the reality check for all of us in the media. The powers that be don’t really care.

 

As for Madame Soni’s score in my report card. 7/10. And a red line for being irresponsible and leaving the ministry a week before her biggest project was being executed.

 

Pradyuman Maheshwari is Editor-in-Chief, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are his own. Inbox him at pradyumanm@mxmindia.com or use the messageboard below

 

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