Will the New I&B Minister fulfil M&E Industry’s Expectations?

12 Jul,2021

The Minister taking charge (PIB photograph)


By Indrani Sen


Indrani SenLast week, in the reshuffling of the cabinet of ministers of the Central Government, Anurag Singh Thakur took over a double-barrelled charge of Sports & Youth Affairs Ministry from Kiren Rijiju and Information & Broadcast Ministry from Prakash Javadekar. He was elevated to full cabinet minister rank from minister of state rank in which capacity he has been working in the Finance and Corporate Affairs Ministry since 2019.


Two years back, I first read about Anurag Thakur when he was appointed as a Minister of State “…’You elect Anurag with a record margin, I will make him a big leader,’ Shah had urged the voters at an election rally in Bilaspur, Hamirpur, on May 12. They did. And Shah kept his word, with Thakur being sworn in as a Union minister last Thursday.


(https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/elections/lok-sabha/india/from-bcci-to-union-cabinet-anurag-thakur-enters-big league/articleshow/69585917.cms?from=mdr). Thakur first got elected to Lok Sabha from Hamirpur through a bypoll in 2008 and then won the same seat three times in 2009, 2014 and 2019.


Amit Shah has continued to honour his promise as in two years Thakur has not only got elevated to the rank of a full cabinet minister, but has also been entrusted with the charges of two key ministries considering the importance of young voters in India and the dynamically changing media scenario in the digital age. It is expected that Thakur will be able to resolve the issues faced by both the M&E Industry and the sports industry given his record as a parliamentarian from 2008, former Chairman of the IT Committee and President, BCCI.


Last week, various leaders from M&E industry welcomed Thakur as the newly appointed I&B minister and expressed their hopes that he would be looking into various concerns and demands of the various sectors and would provide a level-playing field for TV broadcasters, publishers on print & digital platforms, radio operators, cinema producers, etc. The various issues which are on the cards currently can be divided into two categories, one related to the content of the media and the other related to all non-content issues. Let us first look at the issues in the first category related to the content of media.


Starting June 18, the Centre has sought public comments on the draft bill of the proposed Cinematograph Amendment Bill (2021) which includes fine and a jail term for film piracy, introduces certification on the basis of age and empower the Central government to order recertification of an already certified film following receipt of complaints. Centre had sought public comments on the draft bill starting June 18, 2021. Six film trade associations have already sent a joint representation to I&B Ministry objecting to the revisionary power sought to be provided to the Centre. Well-known filmmaker Shyam Benegal has also opposed this bill, saying that the government has no role in film certification and recertification. As this proposed amendment enhancing the role of the Central Government in deciding on the content of the films seems to be part of a bigger gameplan of the Central Government to choke the voice of Indian media, it is doubtful if Thakur in his new role will be prepared to listen to the voice of the industry.


The timely adoption of the new IT rules by OTT and digital news channels also belongs to the content category and the bigger game plan mentioned above. Under this rule digital media publishers, publishers of digital news linked to traditional media, and over-the-top (OTT) media service platforms to furnish basic information about themselves and their self-regulatory mechanisms creating a role for a government appointed regulator for overruling the decisions of self-regulatory bodies. As I wrote earlier on this topic (https://www.mxmindia.com/2021/06/will-indian-netizens-lose-their-digital-rights/), so will not elaborate on it again. Subsequently, many publications moved court against the IT rules 2021. The Supreme Court has turned down a transfer petition filed by the Centre seeking transfer of all cases related to IT Rules to the apex court. Thakur will be expected to handle the legal cases and resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the Central Government.


About two weeks back, the Central government introduced a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism as an amendment to the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act with the intention of making the content related grievance redressal system for TV Broadcasters at per with the OTT and digital news platforms. The TV industry requires more clarity on this issue and its implementation.


Among the pending issues pending for some time in the non-content category, the following require immediate attention from the new I&B minister:

:: Certain long-standing demands of broadcasting sector related to their demand for an infrastructure status, liberalised licensing regime and a stable regulatory climate. The proposal of IBF seeking stimulus package based on economic relief and flexibility in the regulatory system.


:: Addressing broadcasters’ concern about 5G system disrupting their transmission. Almost all C-Band satellites use spectrums between 3.7 GHz and 4.2 GHz for their downlinks and band of frequencies between 3.7 GHz and 4.9 GHz are used by most television channels for their operations which are adjacent to the band of frequencies identified for 5G usages in the country in the range of 3.00 GHz to 3.6 GHz.


:: To come up with a solution for audience measurement of TV channels by either introducing reforms in the current system of BARC or by setting up an alternative TV measurement system. In November, 2020 I&B Ministry formed a committee headed by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vampati to examine the matter and to give a recommendation. The Vampati Committee submitted its report to the I&B Ministry in January, 2021, but the content of the report was not shared with public at large. The recommendations may also provide some guidelines for resuming the ratings of the news channels which have been suspended by BARC.


The M&E industry at large and the TV broadcasters in particular are hoping that Thakur will address their immediate concerns impartially and will take positive steps towards making constructive changes in the media ecosystem. Industry watchers like me are keeping our fingers crossed as only time will prove the efficiency and effectivity of our new I&B Minister.


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