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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  The futility of AN advisory on  state-owned  TV channels
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The futility of AN advisory on  state-owned  TV channels

While there may be a desire to control state-run channels, the MIB note carries little weight

A smart TV is defined by its operating system, the ability to connect to the internet and run internet-enabled services. Photo: iStockPremium
A smart TV is defined by its operating system, the ability to connect to the internet and run internet-enabled services. Photo: iStock

Last fortnight, the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) issued an advisory on ownership of television broadcasting and cable distribution by central or state and UT governments. It clearly stated that no ministry or department of the central government or state and UT governments and entities related to them can enter broadcasting and distribution in the future. In case they are engaged in TV broadcasting, they must go through public broadcaster Prasar Bharati but must exit the distribution business, it said. The advisory gave more than a year to various entities to transition, with a deadline of 31 December 2023.

Ostensibly, the advisory reiterated the recommendations made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on several occasions over the years prohibiting both central and state government ministries and departments, their companies or joint ventures from entering the business of broadcasting and distribution of TV channels. Trai’s views were endorsed by the ministry of law and justice, the advisory stated.

However, media industry watchers said the advisory is aimed at certain state governments, some of whom are running TV channels. “Quite clearly, opposition-ruled states of Tamil Nadu/Telangana/Andhra Pradesh and Kerala are being targeted as the country appears to be in continuous election mode, and government-owned channels do have an impact on regional public opinion. Among others, Arasu Cable in Tamil Nadu, Kalvi TV of Tamil Nadu Government, and AP Government’s IP TV channel AP Fiber News using AP Government’s Fibre to Home Network may be affected," said corporate and media advocate Ashok Mansukhani.

However, he added that the recommendations in the MIB note seem ineffective. Routing channels through Prasar Bharati has no legal backing as it is not authorized under any law in force at present, Mansukhani said. “The idea of ensuring that education channels be carried only through Prasar Bharati has implications for Centre-State relations and the true spirit of Federalism because theoretically, if Prasar Bharati goes by the political, ideological directive, it may refuse to carry an educational programme which is not suitable to some quarters politically or ideologically opposed to the philosophy of a state government," he said.

Media consultant and principal Provocateur Advisory, Paritosh Joshi, said asking channels to be routed through Prasar Bharati makes little sense as the public broadcaster has almost always, since its inception, behaved like an arm of the information and broadcasting ministry, he said. “It’s not much more than a state broadcaster, unlike the idea of a public broadcaster as, let’s say, manifested by the BBC or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Australia, which are genuinely fiercely independent of the state," he added.

Interestingly, last month, Deccan Herald reported that the ministry of women and child development could soon have its own TV channel that would be available on all DTH and social media platforms. If the news report is correct, then it appears to be at cross purposes with the recent advisory unless the directions are aimed only at opposition governments, in which case it is a dead letter, Mansukhani pointed out.

“Our politicians openly own channels and will not stop doing so. If the government is seriously planning to enforce this advisory, changes will need to be made to the Downlinking and Uplinking Regulations. Not just that, issues of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) and constitutional freedom to do business can and will arise in due course," he added.

The advisory issued mentions that government entities are “requested" to follow it. “Clearly, they have not been instructed. If it was a mandate, then they would have to show some legal provision under which they can use this authority. In the absence of that, all that they can do is make it an advisory as they currently do not have any mechanism to impose it," Joshi pointed out.

Also, the advisory makes no mention of any web-based broadcasting, such as live streaming on YouTube or Facebook, which governments are increasingly using to reach out to people.

So while there may be a desire to control certain state-run channels, the note from the government carries little weight and is likely to be ignored by the entities it was aimed at. The idea of enforcing it is like whistling in the dark.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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Published: 02 Nov 2022, 11:59 PM IST
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