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The controversial Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill 2006 will not be tabled in the ongoing Parliament session after all. The Union ministry of parliamentary affairs has listed ten Bills for introduction during the sesion; the Broadcast Bill is not among them. The government’s decision to pull the Bill off the list comes in the wake of the representations made by media owners to the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry during the month of July.

The Union ministry of parliamentary affairs has listed ten Bills for introduction during the ongoing Parliament sesion; the Broadcast Bill is not among them. The government’s decision to pull the Bill off the list comes in the wake of the representations made by media owners to the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry in July. )I&B minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi is slated to meet top representatives from the media and entertainment industry in early August to ascertain their views on the Bill. “The minister will be meeting industry representatives in early August to address their concerns and apprehensions,” official sources in Delhi said last week. The government has already initiated steps to take stock of the industry’s views on the Bill after it came in for heavy flak over the draconian steps proposed in the draft Bill.

I&B secretary SK Arora told the national media committee of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) last week, “We are preparing a concept note on the Bill which will be circulated within the media industry before tabling the Bill in Parliament.” The CII committee was represented by Business Standard editor TN Ninan, Zee’s Jawahar Goel, star India CEO Peter Mukherjea, India Today Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie, Tribune Editor-in-Chief HK Dua, apart from representatives from Reliance, BBC and NDTV.

This was the third meeting in July where government officials met industry representatives. Earlier this month, representatives from the Indian Media Group (IMG) and the Indian Broadcasting Foundations had also met Arora and expressed their views on the proposed Bill. IMG is an association of 55 television, radio and publication companies, all Indian, while IBF is a grouping of all major broadcasters.

The media owners, however, seemed to be more concerned about commercial effects of the Bill than freedom of expression. The Bill proposes to cap cross-media ownership at 20 per cent and restructure sharholding patterns. A broadcaster, therefore, cannot have more than 20 per cent stake in another broadcasting network, a cable network or DTH or a radio network. The Bill also says that a broadcaster/group cannot control more than 15 per cent of the total number of television channels in the country, nor can they have more than 15 per cent of total viewership.

Though the proposed Bill had a number of clauses that were seen as dangerous for freedom of expression, it is actually commercial interests that have prevailed over the Union government to hold back the Broadcast Bill. In the last one month that big media owners kept the pressure on the government, there were no reports of journalists’ organisations or free expression / civil liberties groups doing likewise. At least, they did not make news.
CONTENTIOUS: The Bill — which will effectively regulate private broadcasting — provides for punishment like revocation of licences and fines on those who violate the proposed broadcast guidelines, including the Content Code under preparation, if their service is considered “prejudicial to friendly relations with a foreign country, public order, communal harmony or security of the state,” which are not specifically defined.The only condemnation had come from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). “While IFJ supports any move to prevent monopolistic control of the media in the hands of a few corporations, journalists and unions must ensure that the proposed changes to the Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill do not allow for the abuse or stretching of the law by the Indian government in any situation,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

There is also concern that the Bill — which will effectively regulate private broadcasting — provides for punishment like revocation of licences and fines on those who violate the proposed broadcast guidelines, including the Content Code under preparation, if their service is considered “prejudicial to friendly relations with a foreign country, public order, communal harmony or security of the state,” which are not specifically defined.

“IFJ, along with its affiliates in India, must monitor the establishment of the new Broadcasting Bill to ensure that press freedom isn’t restricted or violated, and that it does in fact benefit journalists and allows for free dissemination of news to communities,” Warren said. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU), and the All-India Newspaper Employees Federation (AINEF) are affiliates of IFJ in India.

Though Dasmunshi has repeatedly been insisting that he would be introducing an extremely media-friendly law, it is not clear whether this friendliness would have an affinity more towards media owners or media workers (read, freedom of expression advocates). One would have to wait for another session of Parliament for that.
July 25, 2006 | Newswatch Desk | Newswatch

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