Regulators

IBF calls for broader consultative participation on Broadcast Bill

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MUMBAI: The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is crying foul against the Broadcast Services Regulation Bill, 2006. Submitting a detailed proposal on the Bill to the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry today, the IBF suggested a broader consultative participation among all the stakeholders before framing the regulations. Its complaint: the proposed regulatory framework would restrict the growth of the broadcasting industry.

"We welcome the attempts of the ministry of information and broadcasting to consolidate various codes and guidelines under which our members operate, through one umbrella law, and believe that a single window approach would benefit the industry. However, in the interest of ensuring long term sustainability and growth of our industry, any new regulatory framework needs to be preceded by a thorough analysis of the broader issues facing the industry. A consultative process is especially critical since our industry is still in its infancy," the IBF said.

Stressing on a law that would also facilitate a self-regulatory process in the industry, the IBF raised some "critical" issues that needed to first be resolved in the interest of all stakeholders, before further steps were taken to regulate the broadcast services.

1. RESTRICTIONS ON GROWTH, EFFICIENCY AND BENEFITS OF ECONOMIES OF SCALE
The IBF expressed discontent over proposed regulations on content and commercial time and felt the Broadcast Bill would impose arbitrary restrictions on the expansion of media companies.

"Media businesses require huge capital investments, with business plans that have long gestation periods, often ranging up to ten years or more. Any impediments, therefore will retard the growth of the media industry, and affect the efficiency of the media business and the ability of consumers to receive high quality programming through a variety of delivery platforms at reasonable prices," the IBF said.

As the regulations would require a complete restructuring of India's broadcasting industry, the IBF feared it would lead to a loss in revenue and downsizing.

"It is also important to note that there are presently a number of business arrangements between broadcasters and cable operators with shareholding patterns that are in direct conflict with the proposed provision in the Bill. Similarly in the absence of alternative arrangements, and with the knowledge of the government, many broadcasters have set up captive earth stations/ teleports to uplink their own channels, which in practice may run counter to the mandate of the proposed Broadcast Bill," the IBF said.

2. PUBLIC BROADCASTING & DOORDARSHAN AS AN INDEPENDENT PLAYER
The IBF is against the mandatory sharing of sports programming with Doordarshan since it is in conflict with intellectual property rights (IPR) of those who hold the telecast rights. Besides, this is against the trend of recent judicial pronouncements by various courts in India.

The IBF has recommended that a standalone law be enacted for public broadcasting (PB) after appropriate deliberations, in line with several jurisdictions abroad.

"Doordarshan should not be allowed to compete commercially with other channels if it is truly to be a public broadcaster. "It should be subject to a PB regulation that needs to be developed under the aegis of the independent sectoral regulator to ensure that it fulfils its role as a public broadcaster," IBF pointed out.

The "must carry obligations" should only apply if at all to true PBs. A channel that competes for advertising revenues should definitely be excluded from being further extended the advantage of being compulsorily carried, as this skews a level playing field and is an impediment to the commercial business of broadcasters, cable operators, as well as the consumer's right to watch channels of choice.

"The present structure of the Broadcast Bill seems to provide rights to Doordarshan without any reference to the issue of consideration, and is therefore arbitrary, anti competitive, and will impede the free flow of funds available to Indian sports today. This anomaly needs to be addressed especially because Doordarshan has a commercial motive and generates separate revenue from such feed by selling advertising space while re-broadcasting such feed," the IBF pointed out.

3. AUTONOMY OF THE BROADCAST REGULATORY AUTHORITY OF INDIA

The IBF supports the merger of the role of the Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India (Brai) into the Press Council of India which has a significant representation from the members of the industry.

"It is imperative that any regulator should be independent and not serve any single vested interest, whether the government, the private sector or the consumer. In this regard the process of appointment and the term and tenure of members of such a regulator are critical for ensuring that a regulator serves its purpose of maintaining a balance of interests," the IBF said.

The regulatory and adjudicatory powers of any regulator for the broadcasting industry also should be separated and specific.

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