New I&B minister Manish Tewari sets the agenda for cable digitisation

NEW DELHI: Even as the government faces opposition from political parties on the issue of deadline for first phase of digitisation, newly appointed Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari has exuded confidence that the 1 November deadline for the first phase of digitisation in the four metros would be met.

Tewari said that the ministry had put in place a roadmap for achieving the target of switching over from analogue to digital. The Ministry has taken efforts to involve the key stakeholders associated with the digitisation initiative.

Later in the day Tewari held a series of meetings with different officials to understand the implications of cable television digitisation, particularly in the light of contradictory claims by different stakeholders.

Tewari, who took charge of his new assignment this morning, said that he would take forward the comprehensive policies of the UPA Government in the media and entertainment sectors.

The first-time Minister met his predecessor Ambika Soni to understand the Ministry‘s stand on various programmes, including digitisation. He was also briefed by I&B secretary Uday Kumar Verma who gave him a preview of the work being done by the ministry and the priorities that have been set.

Queried about key priority areas, Tewari said that he would like to express his views only after he had a comprehensive briefing by officials. However, digitisation is clearly the key priority for the ministry at this point.

"With regards to digitisation, the ministry has already put a road map in place and there are certain benchmarks which they have delineated. After talking to people who have been looking into this particular aspect, I will be in a better position to apprise you where have we reached and how much of the benchmarks that we had set out have been fulfilled," Tewari told reporters during a brief interaction after taking office as the Minister.

Tewari will have his task cut out as only two days are left for the deadline and political parties in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai are already pressurising the government to have the deadline extended on the ground that a large number of homes are yet to be digitised.

Cable operators in these cities have also warned that there will be public backlash if the government goes ahead with the deadline and signals to analogue homes are switched off which would mean a large number of dark homes, particularly in Chennai and Kolkata.

Contesting government‘s claim of 85 per cent digitisation in the four metros, the cable operators have said that there would be law and order problems in the metros if broadcasters switch off analogue signals.

Asked about the issue of paid news, Tewari said that the goal was to evolve a political consensus since the I&B ministry as such doesn‘t have the regulatory power.

"In so far as paid news is concerned, I am aware of the immensity of the problem. This is something that requires political consensus across the board and all the stakeholders need to be brought on board. The Information and broadcasting ministry unlike other ministries does not have the regulatory remit in that sense of the word," he said.

In a related issue on digitisation, I&B secretary Uday Kumar Varma said an average of 45 to 50,000 set top boxes were being installed every day and the digitisation would be completed by the end of the month.

"A quiet revolution is unfolding in the broadcasting sector as we are just a few days away from complete digital switchover from the analogue cable television network to digital cable television networks in the four metro cities of India," he said, while addressing the CII Media and Entertainment Meet on ‘The Big Picture‘ Summit 2012 in New Delhi.

"The transformation, we all agree, will bring in rich dividends to the entire broadcasting industry, government and importantly the people of the country," Varma added.

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Manish Tewari gets charge of I&B ahead of digitisation

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