Swarup tells NBA to submit Code by its 31 January deadline

NEW DELHI: The information and broadcasting ministry today said that news broadcasters must meet the deadline set by themselves for 31 January 2008 and submit their draft content code to the government.

I&B secretary Asha Swarup stressed on the media to act fast, and buttressed her statement by saying, "There is no need for you to question the government's intentions, but if industry does not come out with its content code the courts will do it for you."

This was obviously in reference to the suggestion made by the Delhi High Court recently while hearing a case on a fake sting operation that the I&B ministry could form a committee to vet and clear every sting operation before it goes on air.

The government has no intention whatsoever for curbing the freedom of the press,, she reiterated, but adding that some regulation has to be in place and it could easily come from the NBA.

"We have taken them very seriously and hope they will stick to the deadline, and are looking forward to the draft," she said while addressing a panel discussion on regulatory issues at the Assocham Global Media and Entertainment Summit, Focus 2007.

Interestingly, Swarup was reacting to a comment from Pavan Duggal, chairman, Assocham cyberlaw committee, that regulation for the media in the digital era is already there in the Information Technology Act.

She said the this was brought to her notice for the first time and the ministry would see if amending that law would be enough to set up the regulatory system for the broadcast media.

Duggal had pointed out in his presentation that already there are provisions (Sections 4 and 79) under the IT Act, 2004, which should govern the media in the digital environment.

The ministry remains open to all suggestions regarding the broadcasting regulation she said, arguing that people have misunderstood the draft that the ministry had floated for public debate.

"I wonder whether the people who have been protesting so vehemently have carefully read the draft, because in it we have said three things, 'that the regulator will be a body outside the government, that the need is to have a uniform standard, and the third point relates to the constitution of the regulator'.

"We are prepared to consider any document which leads to the media governing itself, and if you want to change the manner of constituting the regulator to make it independent, we are ready for any discussion even on that," she said.

It may be recalled that during the Digital Summit organised by earlier this year, also attended by Ofcom chairman Lord Curry, Swarup had said after discussions with him that the ministry was considering how to take lessons from Ofcom to set up an independent regulator.

She reiterated that she had no hesitation with the media bringing in its own code, reminding the audience that the Advertising Services Council of India is an independent body and had brought in their own code "which the government adopted", saying the same could be possible with the NBA code.

She accepted the suggestion of Ashok Mansukhani, president, Hinduja Ventures Ltd, that in the current situation, legislation should be facilitative and light and added that taking into consideration the converged environment, the government could look at a converged bill as well for the media to include all platforms under one regulator.

She said that she has talked individually to many top broadcasters and they have said they will draft their own code, but nothing has happened.

"Now they have said they will do that by January 31, and we hope they will do so," Swarup said.

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