Time to call Minster’s bluff. 6.5/10 performance by UPA-run I&B ministry

25 Feb,2014

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

It’s perhaps unfair to damn only Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari for his performance. Successive occupants of that office – under various regimes – have made a mess of things over the years. Right from the time of BV Keskar, the first mantri who banned Hindi film songs on Vividh Bharati to occupants such as LK Advani, IK Gujral and Sushma Swaraj who didn’t do much for the sector. Ministers like Priyaranjan Dasmunshi and Anand Sharma were on war with many broadcasters and Ambika Soni was by far the best of them all though the digitization execution process was messed up when she was at the helm.

 

Earlier this week, as part of the Bharat Nirman series of ads, the DAVP inserted an ad making several claims under the headline “Empowering People Through A Liberal Information Order”.

 

I think it’s important that someone were to call the minister and ministry’s bluff. The text in italics is my response to the points made in the ad.

  • Several policies issued and implemented for the liberalization of Print Media Sector in last 10 years

Is it? Like? Save appeasing the sector with DAVP ad hikes, there’s precious little done 

  • Television industry grew from Rs 18,300 crore in 2006 to Rs 50,140 crore in 2014

This would have happened any which way. No marks for the UPA 

  • Total number of TV channels increased from 130 in 2014 to 788 in 2014

Again no credit to UPA for this. In fact, the government has been sitting on many applications and approvals over the last few months 

  • 3 Crore Set-Top Boxes installed in the first two phases of digitization

Yes, Digitization is an achievement of the government. But look at what happened with it? Chennai is not fully digitized. Kolkata faced several hiccups. Phase 2 is nearly 90 percent, which is heartening 

  • New policy guidelines for Television Rating Agencies issued in 2014

One is not very sure whether the government should be getting into policing television audience measurement. That should be left for the industry. Thankfully, the government hasn’t got into IRS or advising ad duration on radio and column centimetres/ad-edit ratio in print 

  • New policy guidelines issued for Headend in the Sky (HITS) Broadcasting Services and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)

It is fine to issue guidelines, but an IPTV, for instance, has been a non-starter. And HITS is just about a nice acronym 

  • Radio industry grew from Rs 600 crore in 2006 to Rs 1540 crore in 2014

Would’ve grown more had news been allowed. Isn’t it ironic that all and sundry can start news channels – on satellite and cable – and our radio folks aren’t trusted? 

  • 245 FM channels in 85 cities since 2005. In the next phase 839 channels proposed in 294 cities

Phase III? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Phase III has become a joke. We’ve heard about it just so often. Even the Mumbai Metro would’ve started, but our government would be sitting on the papers. 

  • Community radio stations increased from 64 in 2009 to 163 in 2014

For a country of a billion-plus people, 163 community radio stations is an apology. Not enough done to evangelise it.

  • Foreign Direct Investment for five segments of broadcasting sector revised in 2012

And what about news? So FDI can be upped in critical segments like telecom, but not so in news. Just why?

 

  • Overhaul of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 by Justice Mudgal Committee

Some welcome steps here? Implemented? 

  • National Media Centre with ultra modern facilities inaugurated

No point having just one in Central Delhi. The Central Telegraph Offices in various cities which had press rooms should’ve been upgraded too. News journalists exist in other parts of the country too, Mr Minsiter! 

  • National Museum of Indian Cinema being set up in Mumbai

Better late than never… but would’ve been nicer to coincide with 100 years of cinema.

 

What the ad doesn’t tell us is the several things the government hasn’t been able to achieve. Make Doordarshan an independent and top quality pubcaster like the BBC, for instance. Some attempts to improve DD News were nullified by interference in newsroom operations.

 

Ever since Manish Tewari has taken charge as the Minister, he has waxed eloquent on the paradoxes of the industry qua (his favourite word) exigencies of the business. He has even tried to police the cable trade on ownership issues since the networks in his home state of Punjab are managed by his political rivals.

 

The government has tried its best to keep the issue of self-regulation issues alive by scaring the news media on and off. Under the pretext of protecting the interests of consumers, the 10+2 ad cap was introduced which saw much resistance from news broadcasters.

 

The government hasn’t been able to do much on Paid News. Newspapers still carry paid content with or without disclaimers in fine print.

 

So how would you rate the last 10 years of the UPA-run I&B Ministry? I would give it a 6 on 10. Okay, let’s make it 6.5, because it could’ve even gotten worse.

 

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