Tewari reaffirms his support for extension of ad cap implementation

NEW DELHI: The news channels have found a big supporter to push their demand for an extension in the implementation of ad cap. And this comes from none other than Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari himself. In a statement made today, the minister has reinstated his support for the news channels and asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to extend the time frame for news channels to implement the 12 minute ad-cap.

“TRAI can give the news channels an extension at least till the final phase of digitisation is complete,” said Tewari who was addressing a symposium on News Media Education in India organised by CMS Academy at the India International Centre in New Delhi.

“The regulator can seriously look into some of the issues which the news channels have raised and see if they can give them a road map which is synchronous with digitisation, so that we can have a seamless implementation of both digitisation and the statutory remit.”

Tewari questions if we have freedom of the press or freedom of the owner of the press

Tewari commented that apart from protecting consumer interest, TRAI should also look at the industry situation so that downsizing does not become the rule rather than the exception. He said manufacturing Set Top Boxes (STBs) “is not rocket science” and digitisation has been a “huge missed opportunity” for the medium and small scale industry. He said Indian industry should utilise the opportunity of providing STBs for third and fourth phase of digitisation.

The minister in his address not only spoke in the favour of the news channels but also took a dig at the current media scenario. Commenting on last week’s lay off by a television news channel and the legal recourse against the Wage Board recommendations for the print media by one of the promoters he said, “Media is a business today.”

Tewari also said that there was a need to reflect on whether it is a business as defined under the Indian constitution or any other activity - a "question germane to the media." He was referring to over 300 job cuts that include some of the well known names, in a news channel last week.

The minister said the rights of the citizens and the rights of the media barons "fall in different tracks with the twain not destined to meet."

Describing the question as a classic chicken and egg situation, Tewari commented that the "Conundrum bedevilling the media landscape today in India is - Do we have freedom of the press or freedom of the owner of the press?" He hoped media professionals would "introspect" on the issue.

Commenting on the challenges faced by the print, broadcasting and new media (internet) he said, “The challenges are unique, distinct and require different treatment.” He further stated that it was time for the print media, which has more or less tried to keep rates low over the years, to "reflect and rationalise tariffs."

He said the heavily advertisement-dependent model of newspapers was "not the way forward" and called for "serious introspection" in the print media on how far the advertisement model can sustain them.

On the broadcasting sector, he said of the 798-odd channels, 415 are news channels, and they too are "hugely" dependant on advertisements for revenue. "This has led to addiction of sensationalism, manufactured anger and media trials," the minister added. The situation leads to violation of privacy and that the issue needs to be addressed.

Tewari also said his ministry had sent a proposal to the law ministry to incorporate provisions against paid news in the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, providing for penal provisions. He said it was proposed that paid news would be made an offence which would have provisions of penalty and suspension of license.

He said the media industry should consider holding a common exam for journalists, on the lines of that conducted by the Bar Council, after which they could be given licence to pursue the profession.

“A good starting point would be that rather than prescribing a curriculum which is then standardised across institutions, possibly the media industry could think about at least having a common exam.”

Tewari said there were good institutions to train journalists, but there were also “fly-by-night” operators in the media education sector “Professionals from diverse fields would not resent the idea of a common exam.”

Press Council of India Chairperson Justice (Retd) Markandey Katju had earlier raised the demand for minimum qualifications for journalists.

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