Television

'India far less regulated than most developed nations' : S K Arora - I&B secretary

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A 1971 batch officer of the Indian Administrative Service, SK Arora is a man of few words and believes that actions should speak for themselves. But as the information and broadcasting secretary, the media glare just refuses to leave him. More so, as the government's approach to policies relating to media is widely debated and criticized by the industry and some political parties who support the present coalition government from outside.

In a rare interview, Arora, who has served in various capacities in the central and state governments (including his home cadre of Andhra Pradesh), discusses various issues relating to I&B ministry and media in a freewheeling conversation with Indiantelevision.com Anjan Mitra.

Excerpts:

On his overview on the media industry:

There's considerable vibrancy in the industry at the moment as it goes through a phase of expansion. There's quite a lot happening on the TV and radio front presently and the government is quite happy to facilitate the process.

As far as projections for the TV industry are concerned, the government doesn't have any such numbers. It's for the industry to base its numbers on the experience here in India and those internationally. But, if the industry projections made by the likes of Ernst & Young and PwC are to be believed, then the numbers are quite healthy and the industry is anticipating considerable boom.

On government's perspective of the media industry vis-?-vis regulation:

The government's role is --- and should be --- that of a facilitator. The regulatory mechanism is updated and revised to respond to the changing technology and other needs of the industry. It's an ongoing process. So, in that context it would be fair to say that regulation in India is attempting to keep pace with the changes that are taking place out there in the world and the industry.

Till five to seven years back, the media industry in India was largely unregulated. But since then, the government has brought in several guidelines including those related to uplinking, FM radio, syndication in newspapers, foreign investment in print medium, downlinking and even conditional access system, which unfortunately could not be implemented in the form it was being intended to.

At the same time, the government is now looking at new regulations like those pertaining to downlinking and a uniform content regulation framework for radio, TV and films.

'Regulation in India is attempting to keep pace with the changes that are taking place out there in the world and industry'

On whether the Indian market is over-regulated compared to Western countries:

India is far less regulated than most developed countries. And, it is not only relating to content, but in other aspects of the broadcasting industry too, including licensing.

At the government level, we respond to rapid developments on various fronts, including technology. Our response and regulations are not grandiose in nature. Regulations here are evolving along with the industry and its needs. Take, for example, the uplink and downlink policy. When the government realized that all the issues that needed to be addressed were not being done so through the uplinking laws, downlink guidelines were framed. It's now awaiting Cabinet approval.

On criticism of legislation being enacted in a piecemeal fashion instead of planning a comprehensive law:

I partly agree with the criticism. But then events and happenings overtake you. Take, for instance, the Broadcasting Bill introduced in Parliament in 1997. It was an over-arching piece of legislation, covering most aspects of the broadcasting industry in a comprehensive manner. But then getting clearance for such a comprehensive piece of legislation is a time consuming affair because of lengthy procedures involved.

(The Broadcast Bill, introduced in Parliament by Jaipal Reddy under a different government, got referred to a joint parliamentary committee. Before the legislation could get the sanction of Parliament's authority, incorporating the parliamentary panel's recommendations, the government fell because of political reasons and with it the Broadcast Bill was abandoned.)

Now the government is responding in a manner to the changing scenario as it finds best. The changes taking place in the industry necessitates action and regulation in a piecemeal fashion to respond to the need of the hour as effectively as possible.

On whether talks of content regulation is a lot of hot air or actual intent:

The assumption that nothing is happening is incorrect. Several meetings have taken place in this regard involving the industry. The effort of the government (read the I&B ministry) is to take along all the stakeholders along on various aspects like obscenity, violence, gender misrepresentation, etc.

The latest on this is that the government has appointed a 30-member panel, under the chairmanship of the I&B secretary, comprising representatives from the government, industry and activists to study and make suggestions on content in films, radio and TV.

The agenda is to design, elaborate and expand the present censorship guidelines. If one looks at such content guidelines in the US and the UK, such legislation runs into hundreds of pages. Here in India it's brief. The agenda of the panel, which is yet to be notified, will be, thus, to have some commonality of guidelines for radio, TV and films and form content guidelines that will not only be self-explanatory, but also the basis of what should be done by future regulators.

This panel on content guidelines has a three-month time frame to submit its recommendations to the government.

On self-regulation and adult content:

The government has had a dialogue with the industry on this, and both feel that self-regulation is best. The government does not look at it as just a slogan. It is the spirit of this belief that the government has set up this content panel in an effort to elaborate the reference points and enable the industry to self regulate itself.

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