Make discussion on Broadcast Bill more inclusive: IFJ

NEW DELHI: The International Federation of Journalists has urged the Indian government to hold more inclusive consultations and recognise the legitimate interests of journalists in the process of the proposed Broadcast Services Regulation Bill and the Content Code.

This was stated in a memorandum submitted with the endorsement of the National Union of Journalists (India) an IFJ affiliate, and two local unions from Mumbai and Delhi.

“We understand that the most recent draft of the Broadcast Bill that has been circulated for public debate is the fourth in a decade”, said IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. “That its future is still uncertain, speaks of a failure of consensus-building around the purported aims of broadcast law reform”.

The IFJ has been advised by affiliates and other like-minded organisations in India that the Broadcast Services Regulation Bill in its most recent version is not dissimilar to a draft that was introduced, discussed and abandoned last year. The only respect in which the current legislative proposals differ from those of 2006 is in the introduction of a set of “guidelines” for broadcasters, or a “content code”.

“While we can appreciate a regulatory regime that seeks to curtail cross-media ownership and ensure that the broadcast spectrum is preserved as a public resource, we do not see the utility of regulating content,” said Park.

The IFJ has learnt through its affiliates that the Indian Penal Code as it now exists is adequate to deal with instances of gross abuse of media autonomy. Competent legal opinion has held that there is no basis for the prior restraint of the right to free speech, since the punitive powers available are sufficient to sanction all offences post facto.

“In the circumstances,” said Park, “the purpose of broadcast law reform should be little less than to give effect to the historic judgment of the Indian Supreme Court, that the airwaves are a public resource, which should be allocated in accordance with a broad definition of public interest.”

The IFJ, in consultation with affiliated unions and other civil society groups, would like to urge the Indian government to broaden its consultations and to explicitly grant the demand of the professional community of journalists, to be heard in the process of broadcast law reform.

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