Certified adult fare on TV possible: Govt

NEW DELHI: What may bring smiles on the faces of many, the government today indicated that certified adult content could be allowed on television at late hours, but before that the industry must show greater restraint and self-regulation, something that in the past has brought indifferent result.

Briefing journalists after a roundtable on content regulation here today, information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy said that the validity and quantum of advertising on TV channels, especially pay, was also discussed.

Reddy said that in the West, media has adopted self-regulation to a large extent and the endeavour now is to achieve this standard in India also. "The government has its own views on the issue, but it is open and amenable to suggestions and new ideas. The effort would be to maximize the area of consensus through the dialogue," the minister added.

With the common theme of the roundtable, attended by various stakeholders of the broadcast and cable industry, apart from non-governmental agencies and government officials, being self-regulation, Reddy is understood to have told the meeting that he doesn't want to look and sound like a "dictator, thrusting down a regulatory framework," but the industry has to behave more responsibly .

The consensus at the roundtable was that in an age when technology is converging to bring forth an explosion of avenues of content delivery, keeping adult content, which need not necessarily mean pornography, out of TV would be a difficult thing.

Pointing out that an in-principle decision has been taken at the meeting to allow `A' certified films and music videos on television, Reddy said, "The details would have to be worked out, but there is a need to fix a time slot for such programming as now such material can be seen at any time on television."

Though quite a few of those who attended the meeting said that the minister assured them of having a liberalized content regime, but it needs to be seen whether such proposed moves are opposed by political allies of the government or not.

During the roundtable, there was consensus on having a regulatory body for content, but on the lines of Ofcom in the UK and the FCC in the US. However, in the same vein, the government made it clear that there are enough safeguards in existing legislation like the Cable TV (Network) Regulation Act. The need of the hour is their strict enforcement.

The roundtable was attended by Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea, India Today Group head Aroon Purie, TAM India head LV Krishnan, NDTV director Narayan Rao, Zee Telefilms' Jawahar Goel, Times of India group MD Vineet Jain, amongst a host of others from various segments of the media and entertainment industry. The cable fraternity and NGOs too were adequately represented.

The round table workshop on content issues on TV channels was aimed at facilitating a friendly and constructive interaction with the industry and other prominent personalities so their suggestions could be incorporated in a proposed legislation.

On the issue of regulating ads on TV channels, Reddy was of the opinion that internationally pay channels did not have advertisements and the global trend is that there is 20 per cent of commercial time in general on TV. Though he did not elaborate on this percentage, he expressed the hope that in India too TV channels should adhere to such norms.

While the government did admit that it had proposed a downlinking policy to rein in TV channels uplinking from outside India, today at the meeting it soft-peddled the issue, merely saying a legislation would be worked out incorporating this aspect too.

However, industry sources said that Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma and several cable industry representatives attempted to make a strong case for having a downlinking policy soon, envisaging mandatory sharing of listed content with the national and pubcaster.

According to Reddy, his ministry could aim to bring an omnibus broadcast policy to Parliament during the Budget session, beginning later this month, but "it would be very difficult to have serious discussion" on it. "I would say that the monsoon session of Parliament looks like a more idea time for the Broadcast Bill," he admitted.

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