Talks held on WTO pact impact on media

NEW DELHI: The government yesterday had a preliminary round of talks with the various industry bodies on media regarding the WTO agreement.

According to government sources, yesterday's meeting was to get the feedback from the industry bodies like CII, Ficci and Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) on what should be the strategy that India should adopt regarding media and WTO.

Several other rounds of talks are also to be held in this regard when the final blueprint for the strategy will be drawn up, the sources said.

This is part of an initiative wherein the government has started consultation with various industry associations and companies to chalk out strategy for the WTO round of negotiations for the audio-visual sector.

The Indian audio-visual sector wants removal restrictions on local content and other such curbs imposed by different countries on the distribution of films and broadcast services. The sector also wants removal of cross border restrictions on the sector imposed by certain countries like France.

Government sources indicated that these are important as these talks and negotiations will decide the way trade in audio-visual media is done in future.

It has been pointed out by the industry that the negotiations should be carried out on the basis of the objectives underlined in the Article IV of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) which states that the increasing participation of developing country members in world trade shall be facilitated through negotiated specific commitments.

Pointing out that local content regulations become significant barriers in view of the changing trend in distribution of films, FICCI has pointed out in its recommendations that although some countries have liberalised norms, certain countries still stipulate restrictions on broadcasting activities. "EU's broadcast directive requires that a majority of television transmission time be reserved for European origin programmes," FICCI has pointed out, hinting that such restrictions should be removed.

"It may be noted that all signatories and members of WTO enjoy most favored nation status. However, Pakistan imposed a ban on Indian movies and channels. Similarly, Egypt has a fixed quota for Indian movies while no such quota exists for Hollywood films," IBF has said in its representation.

According to a paper released by IBF, "Negotiations for a liberalised regime should be conducted with all countries that have a sizeable ethnic population for where there will be likely demand for Indian Channels. This would include all our immediate neighbours, including Pakistan and Nepal, South East Asian countries, including Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, the Middle East and CIS Republics, Europe, the UK, in Africa countries like Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria, the US and Canada."

Pointing out that some of the Indian technicians have problems working in the US because of the union regulations there, FICCI said that India should retain its present most favoured nation exemption with regard to co-production agreement in the audio-visual sector, rather than having any mutual recognition agreements with different countries.

IBF is also of the opinion that the national pubcaster Prasar Bharati should be given a special status such as budgetary support, monopoly for terrestrial broadcasting as its main objective is to preserve the nation's culture.

The IBF release also points out that all signatories to GATT and members of WTO enjoy Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. However, Pakistan, which is a member of WTO, has imposed ban on Indian movies and channels. Similarly, Egypt has a fixed quota for Indian films while no such quota exists for Hollywood films. India's restriction for feature film is only based on quality as prescribed by the Film Import Policy.

"Problems that are faced by Indian channels are numerous. These include lack of proper information regarding Indians/South Asians in terms of demographics and psychographics. There is also a lack of proper rules and regulations for ethnic broadcasters. In any case laws should be at par with laws that regulate mass broadcasters," said the release.

The meeting between the representatives of government and industry bodies is expected today.

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