For broadcast industry, question is who will head I&B ministry

MUMBAI: With the elections driving a stake through the NDA's heart and taking the Congress off the life support system it had been on for several years now, attention will now be on who will be the next PM and of course who will hold the crucial portfolios of finance, industry, information and broadcasting, communications, energy and petroleum.

For the broadcasting, cable TV, advertising, print media and telecom sectors what will weigh heavily are the I&B and communications portfolios.One player that has a large stake in the convergence game has already started lobbying for the the communications ministry to take centre stage and positioning it as the more crucial of the two ministries. The player has for long been talking about a convergent India and has actually been suggesting that the two ministries be merged.

However, believes that the two ministries should be maintained as separate entities. Among the names being mentioned for the I&B ministership is former incumbent Jaipal Reddy (whose Broadcasting Bill is still gathering dust).

Another possibility is Congress spokesperson Ghulam Nabi Azad who is another person with experience in the I&B ministry (he held the portfolio in eighties). Or the mantle might well fall on the firebrand Renuka Chowdhary.

If the Congress decides to opt for a face from the entertainment industry, there are a number of names that could figure. There is faded Hero Number 1 and "Virar ka Chokra" Govinda or former screen siren Jayaprada. There is of course the many time-MP and actor Sunil Dutt, which is a name that one broadcast industry head honcho suggested as a possible choice.

Of course all this must remain in the realm of speculation for the present.

But whoever does take up the I&B minister's post, he /she will have a lot of unfinished business to deal with, the most vexing being the stalled rollout of conditional access in the country. Will it be scrapped (after all the Congress had opposed it) is a question that is of concern to the cable fraternity in particular.

With the Left having a major say in the new political dispensation, the fear among many in the industry is that the reforms process while not being jettisoned, will likely slow down.

What that might well mean is that demands for relaxation is foreign shareholding norms for news entities from the current 26 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) would not be entertained at least for the near term.

More direct issues will be those like content regulation and framing norms for downlinking that have been priority issues for the government in the recent past.

All this of course will follow after the I&B ministry has a head in place. The answer to that might take a few more days though.


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