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Ambivalent ministry; verbose minister

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Circa: 2004. Characteristic of his verbosity, information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy had mentioned in Parliament that he?s ?dusting? the Broadcast Bill that he had tabled in the House in 1997 to guide his ministry in bringing about a Bill on a regulatory framework afresh.

Cut to the present times. The dusting seems to be still happening as --- one industry player pointed out --- too much of dust, probably, has settled on the files and the old proposed regulatory framework.

In one year?s time the ministry, captained by Reddy, has put up an average performance, especially when it was thought that because of his past experience in the ministry, things would move at a fast pace. Just to give an example, except giving uplink permission to some TV channels, no substantial policy decision has been taken by the I&B ministry in one year?s time.

Rather, as a TV company said, things have been complicated further because of not only inaction, but lack of understanding of the media sector by the bureaucrats in the ministry. And Reddy, hemmed in by political compulsions too, has been unable to provide the sort of leadership that the sector would have desired.

For instance, a set of recommendations on radio broadcast policy that had been submitted to the ministry in August by sector regulator is still going around various ministries for feedback, which still keeps it at distance from the clearance post. ?Unless the recommendations, in whatever form, are taken to the Cabinet, how can the I&B ministry expect them to be cleared or rejected ?? a private radio FM station manager retorted, giving vent to his frustration.

What?s more, the lackadaisical way Reddy and his ministry handled the publication of International Herald Tribune from India by an Indian company and the furore it generated last year speaks volumes of the attitude. Not only the ministry refused to issue an official ultimatum to the publishers of IHT in the initial phase, but also kept feeding the media informally, which carried less weight.

Of course, what acted as an impediment was the fact that the Indian publishers of IHT were breaking no law or rule. Simply because the guidelines had not been notified by the previous government that took away the biting power.

The off-the-record briefing of the media by Reddy on important issues took a hilarious turn, when some months back a seemingly insignificant matter like minor iscrepancies in a series of CDs brought out by the government on the works of Father of the Nation made the minister scurry to call an official conference. Next day the item as a short item.



WORK LEFT UNDONE...

A year is too little time for the I&B ministry to take a decision on?

...DTH applications pending with it. Prominent amongst the four are that of Space TV (a JV between the Tatas and Star) and Sun TV.

?radio broadcast policy, which is turning the private FM radio companies red as their bottomlines have plunged, while hampering additional inflow of revenue in the government kitty in the form of licence fee and/or revenue sharing.

?an overall regulatory framework for the broadcast and cable sector despite the `dusting? of old files that had been promised.

?sector regulator?s recommendations on introducing addressability in the Indian cable homes to take the industry forward into a digital era.





Suggestions received by the ministry in October.

?to carry forward work on bilateral treaties with other countries, started by the previous government, to boost the film industry?s prospects and also attract FDI in the form of making India a favourite destination for foreign film-makers.

?to even formulate a consensus on whether foreign newspapers should be allowed to print from India despite IHT doing so.

? Whether Indian pubcaster should be financially supported to make forays abroad on pay platforms, especially in the UK and the US.

?formulate service rules for employees of Prasar Bharati, an autonomous organization that manages DD and All India Radio, which has resulted in the organisation bloating further as inefficiency has increased.

? for anything substantial other than holding lengthy briefings on Tsunami disaster management, just because the I&B secretary headed the secretaries panel overseeing relief work.

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