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The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill- Issues and Concerns

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    9th Dec, 2023

Context

There are numerous apprehensions that arise from the Broadcasting Bill’s manifest scope as well as its noteworthy silences. Issues and concerns regarding protect press freedom and diversity.

About

The Evolving Landscape of Broadcasting Regulation in India: A Critical Analysis

  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) recently unveiled the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, marking another significant attempt to regulate broadcasting comprehensively.
  • This move follows a series of initiatives dating back to the 1997 Broadcasting Bill, with the latest iteration spurred by a pre-consultation paper on 'National Broadcasting Policy' from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
  • The last initiative to take on this ambitious task was back in 2007, in the form of the Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill.
  • When cable and satellite broadcasting was in its infancy, the Broadcasting Bill of 1997 scripted the first effort to visualise an integrated regulatory framework for this sector.

 Key Propositions and Concerns

  1. Recording Subscriber Data and Audience Measurement
  • The current Bill proposes three noteworthy measures.
  • Firstly, it mandates broadcasting operators to maintain subscriber data records, aligning with international norms.
  • Secondly, it aims to establish a methodology for audience measurement and the sale of ratings data to enhance transparency.
  • However, concerns arise regarding the lack of privacy safeguards for subscribers.
  • Thirdly, the provision allowing private actors in terrestrial broadcasting may foster competition, but potential impacts on supplier diversity need careful consideration.
  1. Inclusion of OTT Content Suppliers
  • A major concern stems from the Bill's inclusion of Over-the-Top (OTT) content suppliers in the definition of broadcasting services.
  • It creates jurisdictional conflicts with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy) discussions on OTT player licensing.
  1. Self-Regulation Challenges
  • The Bill introduces a 'Content Evaluation Committee' for self-certification of news programming, raising questions about feasibility, cost, and desirability.
  • It may impact smaller news outlets, limiting their ability to continue professional pursuits.

 Silences in the Bill

  1. Ownership Issues
  • Crucially, the Bill remains silent on issues of ownership, failing to address cross-media and vertical ownership concerns that can impact supplier diversity and viewpoints in the news marketplace.
  1. Lack of Independent Broadcast Regulator
  • While TRAI's paper hinted at the need for an independent broadcast regulator, the Bill proposes a 'Broadcast Advisory Council'.
  • It raises concerns about its capacity, autonomy, and the government's ultimate decision-making
  1. Government Empowerment and Lack of Definitions
  • The Bill grants the government considerable powers, including unannounced inspections, equipment impoundment, and the ability to curtail broadcasting in "public interest," a term left undefined, raising concerns about external pressure on news suppliers.

As the latest effort in a series to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework for broadcasting in India, the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill faces the challenge of addressing omissions, refining provisions, and balancing potential positives with concerns. It must prioritize press freedom, diversity, and protection against external pressures to fulfill its intended purpose effectively.

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