Government issues watered down concept note on Broadcast Bill, seeks feedback

NEW DELHI: The government has put out a watered-down version of the much-reviled draft Broadcast Bill for feedback from all stakeholders.

Seemingly fazed by all-round criticism, the draft Bill put on the information and broadcasting ministry website has no mention of some draconian clauses.

For example, a clause on government taking over broadcast services in times of war and national calamity has been done away with.

In the draft Bill put on the ministry website --- ---- a certain cap on number of consumers broadcast network service providers (MSOs, cable operators and DTH platform) can have nationally has also been quietly done away with, in sharp contrast to a draft that had been circulated by the government in June.

A clause which stated in an earlier draft that no broadcast network service provider shall have more than the prescribed share of consumers/subscribers in a city or state subject to the overall ceiling of 15 per cent for the whole country doesn’t find a place in the draft put out by the government today.

Some of the powers of the Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India too have been clipped in the new draft.

What's more, the government has put the entire draft Bill on the website of I&B ministry, in itself an historic action of sorts.

A key point worth noting here is that this action (of making the contents public) by the I&B ministry means that the Bill currently stands as having been withdrawn. This is because once a ministry refers a decision to the Cabinet, it is covered by the Official Secrets Act, and the only way it can be brought into the public domain is to withdraw it formally.

The move comes a few days ahead of a meeting that the ministry called with the industry on various aspects of media.

The meeting has been scheduled for the evening of 14 August, which also happens to be the eve of India’s Independence Day.
Though the move is being seen as an attempt to blunt criticism on lack of transparency on the part of government while formulating an important policy, a section of the industry has been caught by surprise by its timing.

“Considering it’s going to be a long weekend, starting Friday (11 August) evening with holidays on 15 and 16 August, the government has given too short a time to revert with serious feedback,” a broadcaster exclaimed.

However, to be fair to the government, it has also given the general public and industry about 30 days to formally lodge objections and suggestions relating to the draft Broadcast Bill, which when leaked in the media end-June ( also got hold of its contents), created an all-round furore.

The concept note on the Bill states that it seeks to achieve the following:

(i) To provide legislative sanction retroactively to government guidelines on various regulatory aspects such as television channels’ uplinking/downlinking, private FM Radio and community radio, DTH, Teleport, etc.

(ii) To set up a new Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India and delegate the regulatory functions presently being performed by the ministry of I&B to this new authority.

(iii) To incorporate the provisions of the existing Cable Television Networks Regulation Act in the new legislation through appropriate repeal and savings clauses and provide for licensing of cable operators.

(iv) To make enabling provisions in areas like cross-media restrictions, minimum searching of local content for all TV channels and their obligations towards social service messages.

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