From the days of a single Doordarshan channel where one had to watch Krishidarshan and pretend that one is enjoying it, Indian TV has come a long way. The choice of channels is awesome, sometimes even exhausting. There is music. There are movies. There are soaps. There is news. There is education and there are a host of special interest programmes and channels. TV is no longer just colour. If one is willing to pay for it, it is full HD with Dolby Surround Sound.
Indian Government in general and a succession of Ministers of Information and Broadcasting have played a stellar role in this progress. They have been supported by outstanding bureaucrats - from Secretaries of I&B at the top to Joint Secretaries. They have been friends of the Indian public and accessible to the industry. How much the industry values the caliber and integrity of these people individually is reflected in the fact that a couple of years ago, by popular vote the industry picked Mrs Ambika Soni as the Impact Person of the year.
That said, government actions in the last year or two have raised a question in many minds about the role the Government should be playing in the world of media. Not many will debate that Government has a role to play in setting the policy for media. And that the policy has to cover a number of areas. Content to the extent it can impact law and order or public’s sense of decency for one. Foreign investment for another. These two policy areas are relevant to all media. The third are where TV, Internet and probably radio are unique is the pace of technological advancement. Various components of the industry have to move forward in unison to commercialize technological innovations and make them accessible to all. And to that extent government must be involved in setting these technological standards.
Beyond that, Government’s involvement in issues like adcap and TV audience measurement in truth is hard to justify. In the courts and tribunals, one can advance arguments referring to clauses of acts to justify these ‘policies’. Examples of anything can be found if one looks at government regulations around the world to support a government’s stand.
But let us pause and look at some of these questions dispassionately, honestly. What is not so unique about TV that it has advertising. If the government does not prescribe the max percentage of advertising a newspaper can carry or a website can carry, why should it prescribe a limit in the case of TV?
What is not unique about TV is that advertisers want audiences of each media vehicle measured so that they may rationally decide the price they will pay for it. If the government does not prescribe guidelines for print readership measurement or internet engagement measurement, why should it be involved in setting guidelines for TV ratings measurement?
Fewer regulations in important areas of policy and their strong enforcement make for a healthy, economically vibrant society. Government’s involvement in setting ‘policy’ in dozens of micro-areas makes for a high-cost uncompetitive economy. Perhaps the incoming Government will take heed and pull out of regulating these micro-areas that are best left to the market forces.
(Arvind Sharma, outgoing chairman of Leo Burnett, was the Guest Editor Of the Day at Indiantelevision.com)