MxM Mondays: Expectations from Manish Tewari, the new I&B Minister

05 Nov,2012

 

It’s a week since Manish Tewari took charge as I&B Minister… just two days before the sunset date of Phase I of digitization. The foremost challenge he faces is overseeing and implementing the digitization process. While the digitization numbers as posted by the MIB look impressive, it remains to be seen if the challenging ground realities are met. Another task at hand would be to let the broadcast industry flourish.

 

MxMIndia spoke to industry captains about their expectations from the new I&B Minister.

 

Ravi Dhariwal

Ravi Dhariwal, CEO – Publishing, BCCL

I just wish that the new minister on board would help media industry in India grow and become more relevant – whether it is print or television. The minister should create an enabling environment where we, as a media fraternity, can serve the country in best traditions.

 

 

 

Man Jit Singh, President, Indian Broadcasting Foundation and CEO, Multi Screen Media

Man Jit Singh

I have a three-pronged expectation list from the minister. I believe he has the same priorities as us when it comes to the process of digitization. We hope that the digitization process is smooth and continuous for him. And the second phase is also rolled out soon. I expect the new minister to support us in making sure there are no pirated signals or disruptive systems.

 

The new I&B minister, as we know, supports self-regulation. As broadcasters, we believe self-regulation, and we look for his continuous support.

 

The last and the most important thing is the issue of Price Control that was put in place in 2003. There was meant to be a sunset date for the price control, which has not happened till date. It has been too long that broadcasters have been following it. Now, it is the time that market forces decide the price.

 

KVL Narayan Rao, President, News Broadcasters Association and Executive Vice-Chairman, NDTV Group

KVL Narayan Rao

I would not go so far as to call it expectation but a belief that he will continue to take forward the good policies that previous I&B minister, Ms Ambika Soni, had initiated. There are three things that Mr Manish Tewari should aim at: digitization being the first one. He should uphold the price for carriage fees and support self-regulation. He should support the industry from the perspective of unreasonable levels of taxation – whether it is direct or indirect service tax. We hope that the next Bill that he presents talks about these issues.

 

Mr Tewari is a democrat, and will probably look at the whole picture and then make decisions.

 

Ashok Mansukhani

Ashok Mansukhani, President, MSO Alliance

Basically, three things: the first thing – the first phase of digitization needs his personal interest to stabilize it. It requires political direction to put it on the right path, especially since the process of digitization has to happen through state governments. I don’t think the minister should leave it to bureaucracy alone.

 

The second thing is that the second phase of digitization is too near the first stage, which is March. And, I think, at this moment it is a mirage to think that we can achieve that target on 31st March because the stabilization of the first phase of digitization is not dependent on a press note. It is the dependent on the acceptance of digitization by the consumer. Now the consumer is at least a month away from understanding what digitization means, what it will cost him and what the benefits are. This is a learning process and the process will take some time, and therefore, I think phase two – even though everyone will say it is non-negotiable – in my view, it will have to be pushed back by six months.

 

The third step is that Mr Manish Tewari needs to very carefully look at the fact that you cannot regulate a multimedia delivery that India has in the form of cable, DTH, mobile TV and IPTV through the Cable Act. The Cable Act is fine as far as cable is concerned. We need to work towards an Electronic Media Management Act. Basically, this Act would function on the basis of self-regulation but which has a safety net of autonomous public authority that Supreme Court asked in 1992 for the Cricket Judgement in which SC had said that airwaves are neither private property nor government property but it is public property. And public property is best protected by an autonomous authority. In 1992, only cable and broadcasters were present but in 2012 you have four technologies and who knows if fifth one will come through 4G.

 

The way I would like to see it that the last thing the Minister needs to do is that everybody somehow managed to do Phase I of digitization without getting any incentive from the government. But I think that what happened in the last week or first 10 days to the run up to sunset date was the sudden realisation that the much-beloved Census figures itself showed that 50% of people in India are poor. If that is so and in any case MSOs were giving a subsidy of nearly Rs 1000, Rs 500 is also proving too much for this really poor class. Someway has to be found to lower the burden on slum areas as much as possible. And one way to do it is what TRAI had wanted to do in 2010, which is to say that if you are a digital infrastructure provider, you will be treated on equal footing as other infrastructure providers and given a tax holiday for seven years so that whatever you invest now, you are able to then recover it in form of low taxes over the next seven years. Also, there has to be some form of set top subsidy scheme, which is not just borne by cable but is also borne by broadcasters in form of lower prices and government in the form of duty reduction.

 

If digitization be his main objective, then apart from that he has to ensure that everybody is kept on a level-playing field. He made some statements in the beginning about it but he is silent in the last four days. So, I think that I am really looking for is more sane and more stable approach to digitization and a level-playing field, which is technology-proof for the future.

 

Roop Sharma

Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India

We expect him to treat all stakeholders in the digitization process equally. He should understand the realities. The new minister should work in tandem with the ground realities of digitization. Mr Manish Tewari should listen to all stakeholders, and take into consideration the problem and hiccups that each state and stakeholder is undergoing in this process.

 

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