Broadcast Bill Darbaar raises lively online debate

MUMBAI: The Broadcast Bill needs to adequately address the changing dynamics in a converging world; and the sector regulator (the proposed Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India - Brai) needs to be an autonomous body - one that is neutral and not managed by the government.

These were the key points that came through in an online debate on the proposed Broadcast Bill Draft 2006, organized today by "Broadcast Bill Darbaar", with guest participants Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Global Broadcasting Company Ltd (Times Now) and Subhashish Mazumdar, head - business development, IMCL/INEL (Hinduja Media Group), saw a lively debate on the vexing issues impacting the industry on account of the Bill. The chat session was conducted between 3 pm and 4 pm this afternoon.

Said Lulla, "The industry has asked the government to have an open dialogue. As the industry and the government have a common interest - growth of the business and protection of consumer interests."

Both Lulla and Mazumdar stressed on the need for technology neutral regulations and licensing. Referring to content regulations, Lulla pointed out, "So how do you control one and not the other, when content, be it in text, visual or audio form could be on any or all of these platforms (terrestrial, cable - analogue and digital -, DTH, mobile TV, IPTV)."

An issue that constantly came up was about the pressing need for limits being placed, particularly on the kind of content that news channels were dishing out. The general argument being that the maddening race for TRPs has made news channels break quite a few rules of decency. Therefore, why shouldn't the government regulate such irresponsible behaviour?

Said one participant, "There has to be some broad guidelines and which are flouted day in and day out. If the industry cannot show responsibility, blaming the government seems funny." To this Lulla responded, "No one is blaming the government for a content code. The code already exists. No one is opposing that. What we ask is for an autonomous body to determine, build, set and regulate the code if it wishes too. That's all the Industry is stating."

On the side of the cable industry, the need for a new license regime was an issue that came up frequently. "We should also have competition among cable operators. Suppose I don't like to shift to DTH or IPTV, which anyway is a distant option," one participant pointed out. "Circles should be established as is the case in telecom (to break cable monopolies)," said another.

Defending the cable industry, Mazumdar said, "We are not against licensing per se, but licensing should be technologically neutral and the basis of licensing is already there in cable, by the way. The licensing regime needs updation like making sure of PAN etc. But no one would like to have a licensing raj for an industry which is servicing 64 million households."

Both Lulla and Mazumdar came out strongly against the proposed cross media restrictions. "For looking ahead, we feel these restrictions are meaningless. If someone asks you to limit your market share by law or regulation, that is not acceptable," Mazumdar said.

Said Lulla: The Indian owned media industry is a fragile industry. It does not have the resources of global giants. In today's day and age, growth of industry and especially the media industry needs to be encouraged. Hence the potential to apply brakes on what can be a significant business in India, is self limiting. Industrialists who are funding these businesses should be able to leverage their investments; hence cross media restrictions of the kind one is hearing about will not create a growth oriented climate, when the rest of the business climate is oriented towards growth.

Neither could adequately answer this poser though: "Why did the industry accept cross media restrictions in DTH, and are now crying foul over the move?"

In summation, Lulla said, "This country has respected freedom of expression and the industry is seeking it be respected. Regulation with dialogue which is inclusive and is autonomous is always welcome."

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