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Government's humps and bumps in 2010

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The year 2010 ended on a more positive note – at least as far as the private television channels were concerned.

The commencement of the year 2011 also marked a new start from the television audience evaluation point of view with the Government accepting a report on TRP which itself gave the much-awaited approval to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) launched by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation.

 

And for radio – which had drawn a blank in 2009 – the start of 2011 came with the Government approving the e-auction for the long awaited Phase III of private FM Radio.

The year 2009 had ended on a somewhat damp note with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry refusing to accept any more applications for the burgeoning television industry in the country and asking the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to study the issue with regard to availability of spectrum and related issues.

But soon after the year began, I&B Minister Ambika Soni decided to accept new applications and not wait for the Trai report, which came later and decided against any cap on the number of channels in the country – which are already over 500.

In its report in July 2010, Trai said there should not be any cap on total number of satellite based TV channels meant for downlinking and uplinking from India, but the eligibility criteria for registration of a TV channel should be revised to include experience in media sector.

It also said the period of permission for uplinking/downlinking permission should be made uniform for 10 years. The permission fee should be revised and charged annually.

The networth requirements should be revised for news and non-news TV channels and teleports and India should be developed as a teleport hub, it further said.

The Ministry had requested Trai on 8 October 2009 to furnish its recommendations on review of policy on uplinking and downlinking of TV channels in India in view of the growing number of channels and in view of the fact that the Ministry had given permission to around 550 TV channels and a number of applications were pending consideration.

The Authority recommended that the applications seeking permission for uplinking/downlinking of TV channels should be processed quickly and the decision on the application should be finalised within three months from the date of submission of fully compliant and eligible application. For this purpose, the I&B Ministry should explore the feasibility of setting up a single-window clearance mechanism. The Authority also gave recommendations relating to the fee structure.

A total of around 260 applications for new television channels were still pending with the Ministry by the end of 2010.

The Ministry introduced a ‘Satellite TV Channels Application Tracking System’ (STATS) to bring complete transparency in the entire system of approvals for new channels. This first-ever initiative allows applicants to get updates on the status of their applications online. Software developed by National Informatics Centre (NIC) will enable companies to log on to an especially designed programme to know the status of their applications.

Meanwhile, the first major step towards nation-wide audience research was taken with the Indian Broadcasting Foundation getting the BARC registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act 1956, and a high-level TRP Committee in its report approving this body.

The BARC was set up as a joint venture between the IBF and the Indian Society of Advertisers on a 60:40 ratio and initial investment of Rs 300 million.

Subsequently, every channel which wants to receive the ratings would have to subscribe to the BARC, the format of which would be decided by an eight-member Technical Committee headed by the ISA and having an equal representation from both the IBF and the ISA.

BARC will not conduct audience measurement directly and instead will commission independent specialist research vendors.

Almost two years after the news television channels came up with their own code, the general entertainment channels through the IBF also agreed on a “Self Regulatory Guidelines and Complaints Redressal Mechanism” for all non-news channels.

With the introduction of these norms, and its adherence by all members of the IBF, the vast majority of all channels licensed by the Government will comply. This will include general entertainment, children and special interest channels.

The redressal mechanism will be a three tier process: to first complain at the Broadcaster/Channel level; a seven-member Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (“BCCC”) at the industry (IBF) level; and finally a Content Appellate Board (“CAB”) of three distinguished members chaired by a jurist including a retired judge of the Supreme Court or High Courts.

However, it waits to be seen whether the Government will accept this process in full, as indications say the Ministry wants a Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India manned by civil society representatives and experts in various fields, and headed by a retired judge.

The IBF recommended that the Self-regulatory Content Guidelines be notified immediately for all Non-News channels under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, replacing the present Programme Code which had been drawn up for Prasar Bharati and then extended to other channels.

Soni reiterated in September 2010 that the government was committed to self-regulation of broadcasting content, but there was need to find a mechanism to make this functional. She said a task force headed by I&B Secretary Raghu Menon was finalising a report in this connection and action would be taken thereon once the recommendations are available. It had held discussions with all stakeholders before working to finalise its report.

Towards the end of the year, however, the urgency for bringing a Content Code into effect was highlighted when the government clamped down on two controversial reality shows, Bigg Boss and Rakhi Ka Insaaf, pushing them from peak primetime viewing hours to an ‘adult‘ time zone that could have an adverse impact on their ratings and revenues. The former on Colors managed to go to Court and get an injunction, while the latter followed the directive.

Pulled up for their raunchy content, the government allowed these shows to run only between 11 pm and 5 am. Big Boss 4 was then airing daily at 9 pm on Colors and Rakhi Ka Insaaf at 10 pm (Friday-Saturday) on Imagine TV, time slots that are popular among TV viewers and advertisers.

A ban was also put on repeat on any other time band for these two shows, and even news channels were barred from carrying content from these shows before 11 pm.

The government also banned SS Music, a multi-lingual music channel, for seven days for allegedly showing nudity, following a recommendation by the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) comprising representatives of the ministries of Information and Broadcasting, and various child rights and women’s rights organisations.

Twenty-four out of the total 118 warnings and show cause notices issued to various private television channels for programmes or advertisemets related to indecent representation of or denigrating women.

According to official figures, the matter is pending in only three of the 24 cases, in which the final order is being issued shortly in two cases (TV 5 and Jai Hind TV) and the reply is being examined in the third (SS Music). These three are among the five cases of 2010, the other two being those of UTV Bindass and MTV.

There were eight notices each in 2007 and 2008, and three in 2009 relating to depiction of women. While the matter was closed after receiving replies in some of the cases, the concerned advertisement/programme was modified in others, and warnings issued in some others.

Interestingly, the news channels got a major relief from the Delhi High Court during 2010 which said sting operations are not unethical and ‘citizens can act as agent provocateurs to bring out and expose and uproot corruption’.

“I consider that it is built-in fundamental duties that every citizen must strive for a corruption-free society and must expose the corruption whenever it comes to his or her knowledge and try to remove corruption at all levels more so at higher levels of management of the State,” it added.

However earlier in the year, the Central Bureau of Investigation had told the Supreme Court that journalists can be prosecuted on corruption charges for conducting sting operations to expose corruption in public life. A party to a sting operation, allegedly undertaken to expose corruption by public servants, can be liable for prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act, if he/she does not inform the law enforcing agency before or immediately after the sting, it said.

 

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