Broadcast regulator may have limited powers

NEW DELHI: The Bill relating to the proposed Broadcast Content Regulatory Authority of India may not be taken up by policy-makers during the present winter session of Parliament, but the information and broadcasting ministry is working on a draft that is likely to be ready by the Budget session in February 2004.

The broadcast regulator, which was earlier part of the Convergence Communication Bill that has been junked by the government for all practical purposes, would come into existence through a separate Act of Parliament. This was stated by a senior government official today.

Pointing out that various broadcast-related issues (like CAS, DTH, HITS) are "creeping" on the government, justifying formation of a separate broadcast regulator, the government official today told few journalists, "We are looking into various suggestions, including those furnished by Ficci (Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), to see how in the interim a regulatory mechanism can be set up."

The proposed regulator would look into matters like licencing, equity structuring (in areas where caps have been outlined) and content on TV.

But, more significantly, the regulator would not have the "final say" on issues with the ultimate authority resting with the government, the official said, adding, "especially in areas like shareholding patterns of a company and licencing, the government would like to have the last say."

If this is the structure that the government is looking while setting up a broadcast regulatory authority, it seems that the proposed regulator would be more of a toothless tiger, something on the lines of the Press Council of India, which monitors the print medium.

The official also made it clear that the need for a regulator is felt more in recent times as neither the information and broadcasting ministry nor any other part of the government has the time or the logistics for such activities. "There is certainly a demand building up (for a broadcast regulator)," the official added.

The proposed regulatory authority is likely to a chairman and 10 members on the board. Out of the 10, five are likely to be part-time and one would be member secretary (ex-officio). The last one is expected to be a government representative in the proposed regulatory body.

Meanwhile, the consultative committee of parliamentarians attached to the I&B ministry is slated to meet here tomorrow. Agenda: content on television. The issue has been in the news for the last 10 days after I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently said that the government would like all TV channels, barring news channels, to show programmes that are certified, or can be certified, 'U' (fit for people below 18 years of age).

On Monday, Prasad beat a hasty retreat saying that he "respects" celluloid creativity and that the government does not propose to do anything extra that is already not there in various Acts and rules and regulations.

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