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Media companies oppose Broadcast Bill 2006

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NEW DELHI: It was day of lobbying here as print and electronic media met up with a government official on Thursday to express serious concern over a draft Broadcast Bill 2006, which despite being in formative stages has the potential of being restrictive.

The underlying theme of a meeting that media company representatives had with I&B secretary SK Arora was that proposed media norms were simply ways to gag the media, even if it’s still to get a Cabinet nod, and had to be opposed.

More irksome and dangerous, media companies felt, was an attempt by the government to try draft a legislation without consulting the industry, contrary to what had been done with other media norms (especially the PRB Act relating to the print medium), which smacked of total lack of transparency.

Though Arora did not hand out any assurances at the meting with the media committee of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), he did admit that he would try preparing a concept paper based on a draft Cabinet note relating to the Broadcasting Bill 2006 for industry’s feedback.

The senior government official, who also received a representation from the Indian Broadcasting Foundation separately later in the day, tried his best to allay fears of the media and conveyed that some of the so-called draconian features and restrictions already existed in some form or other in existing pieces of legislation.

According to some of those who attended the meeting, when confronted with the fact that proposed norms would hamper fair business activities, Arora opined that government's endeavour was not to be restrictive, but facilitate business and create a level playing field for all.

Those who attended the meeting included the India Today Group chief Aroon Purie, Business Standard's CEO and editor T N Ninan, Zee group’s Jawahar Goel, Discovery Network India’s EVP and MD Deepak Shourie, NDTV's Narayan Rao and Star Group India CEO Peter Mukerjea, The Tribune newspaper editor HK Dua and Reliance-Anil Ambani group’s Tarun Katial.

That Arora had very little to offer to the media, except carry their feedback to his political masters, was evident when Reliance’s Katial brought up the topic of allowing news and current affairs on private radio FM stations and drew a blank from the government official.

Though CII is yet to issue an official statement on the meeting, opinion seems to be divided.

While one media representative termed the meeting “an exercise into futility with lot of work still to be done,” another said that most media companies felt a bit re-assured.

However, on one issue there was unanimity: the need for electronic and print apex bodies to come together on a common platform to raise voice against restrictive media legislation.

Increasingly as the government faces flak over the proposed Broadcast Bill, which smacks of restrictions and attempts at media muzzling by introducing a government-controlled regulatory body, industry too is scurrying to get its act together.

In the middle of June, the I&B ministry had circulated a draft Cabinet note on regulating broadcasting services amongst other ministries for feedback. When leaked in the media, it kicked up a furore.

Since then, I&B minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi has been blowing hot and cold. First he denied existence of the draft. Then he backtracked to say he’d bring in a media-friendly legislation in Parliament to emphasize the very next day that he does not propose any “dilution” or “pollution” in the draft.

While the government would want to bring the Bill in Parliament in the monsoon session, starting from Monday next, other ministries are yet to send in their feedback that may take up to 15 days for compilation, according to an official of the I&B ministry.

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