Sucheta Dalal :2009: A year of hope & promise for the I&B ministry
Sucheta Dalal

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2009: A year of hope & promise for the I&B ministry  

January 6, 2010

A high-definition format for television viewers to enjoy the Commonwealth Games and efforts for auction of 3G spectrum were some matters that kept the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry busy in 2009, reports PTI.


Though there was not much forward movement for the ministry in the year gone by, a ray of hope filtered in at the fag end as the government approved the delayed Headend in the Sky (HITS), which gives cable operators an option to distribute signals through satellite and provide digital transmission to subscribers.


UK-based Satellite Information Service Live was shortlisted in October by the ministry for broadcasting the Games through HITS on behalf of Doordarshan.


The year saw high-pitched confrontations in the Prasar Bharati Board, deep freeze of the much-awaited Broadcast Bill due to wrangling on the content code, efforts for auction of 3G spectrum and the government trying to stop entry of fly-by-night TV and other media operators.


On the upside, a major change was seen in the print media when the government allowed Indian editions of two foreign publications.


But the Broadcast Bill remained in deep freeze with the ministry and the broadcasters trying to hammer out a set of content regulation rules, acceptable to both parties.


The first half of 2009 under Anand Sharma witnessed confrontation between Prasar Bharati Board members and chief executive BS Lalli.


In May-end, just days after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) assumed office again, confrontations between Mr Lalli and the board members were at their highest pitch and Prasar Bharati chairman Arun Bhatnagar resigned from his post. His resignation was accepted only on 18th December after a gap of seven months.


Ambika Soni, who succeeded Mr Sharma in the second UPA regime, sent a detailed report on the infighting within the public broadcaster to prime minister Manmohan Singh. Alleged irregularities in Prasar Bharati were also being investigated as per directions of the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.


Ms Soni was unhappy over the unused infrastructure worth crores of rupees at Doordarshan headquarters in Mandi House and directed officials to start broadcasting of DD News from there from 19th November.


She had also asked DD officials to shift operations to Mandi House. Till date, the transfer of assets to Mandi House is yet to start. Doordarshan does all its production work from its Khel Gaon studios.


Ms Soni invited broadcasters, who were wary especially after the ministry's warning to adhere to its Content Code—formulated after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks—on TV coverage of news and sensitive events, for discussions on developing content regulations.

Concerned over the growing number of TV channels, with many being run by fly-by-night operators, she has also sought the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) views on regulating the entry of new channels.


With the telecom ministry preparing to start 3G spectrum auction for operators, the I&B ministry is getting applications for starting new TV channels virtually on a daily basis even as there are already 500 channels on air.


In another move, Ms Soni wrote a letter to home minister P Chidambaram on unauthorised telecast of several religious TV channels, in clear violation of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. Mr Chidambaram assured Ms Soni that his ministry would look into the matter.


Ms Soni also floated the concept of a parental lock system and fixing 'watershed hours' for showing adult content on TV through discussions with broadcasters. Such a provision would help parents lock certain channels, which they think should not be viewed by children, while adult content could be shown between 11pm and 4am.


During the year, the ministry also gave clearance to two foreign publications—Spectator and Forbes—to bring out their Indian editions.


Ms Soni announced her ministry would soon amend the Press and Registration of Books Act 1867, which would be known as the Press and Registration of Publications Act 2009.


Among others, the new Act will look into blocking frivolous and non-serious publications. The preamble of the Act will be modified to include provisions for foreign direct investment (FDI), facsimile editions of foreign publications and Indian editions of foreign publications.


By 31 March 2010, the draft of the amended Act would be put up on the ministry's website and stakeholders' comments will be sought, before sending it to Parliament.


Ms Soni also announced that four more Indian Institutes of Mass Communication (IIMC) will be set up to meet growing demand for media professionals, taking the number of IIMCs to six from the existing two.

Yogesh Sapkale


-- Sucheta Dalal