Con­fused sig­nals

Why the broad­cast sec­tor is un­able to help the gov­ern­ment’s ad­mirable missions to ease busi­ness and pro­mote sports

Governance Now - - MEDIA MATTERS - feed­back@gov­er­nan­

Of late, there have been some anx­ious mo­ments for broad­cast­ers and no one knows where it’s been com­ing from, and why it’s hap­pen­ing, For starters, the min­istry of in­for­ma­tion and broad­cast­ing is the li­cen­sor for TV chan­nels, in two cat­e­gories: (i) news and cur­rent af­fairs (‘news chan­nels’) and (ii) non-news and cur­rent af­fairs (‘gen­eral en­ter­tain­ment chan­nels’, or gec). gec in­cludes chan­nels on themes like en­ter­tain­ment, sports, movies and spir­i­tu­al­ity and kids as well as re­li­gious chan­nels.

News chan­nels, as is well known, have com­plete free­dom to live tele­cast any event. gec chan­nels, on the other hand, have to ap­ply for tem­po­rary up­link­ing per­mis­sion for live tele­cast of any pro­gramme, show or event in­clud­ing sport­ing events. This is a te­dious ex­er­cise in­volv­ing not just the min­istry, but also the Wire­less Plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion (WPC) and Net­work op­er­a­tion & con­trol cen­tre (Nocc), both of which come un­der an­other min­istry, the min­istry of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. any­way, the chan­nels have been tak­ing this pro­ce­dure in their stride.

Now that the gov­ern­ment has ac­corded high pri­or­ity to im­prov­ing In­dia’s rank­ing in the World Bank’s ‘ease of Do­ing Busi­ness’ sur­vey, the in­dus­try was hope­ful that such red tapes would be re­moved. The hope comes es­pe­cially from the Tele­com reg­u­la­tory author­ity of In­dia, which is the reg­u­la­tor for the broad­cast­ing sec­tor.

ever since Trai was given this task in 2004, both the min­istry and Trai con­sult each other on all rel­e­vant is­sues of the sec­tor. In fact, Trai has es­tab­lished a ro­bust con­sul­ta­tion mech­a­nism with ac­tive in­volve­ment of stake­hold­ers, which has be­come a cause of envy for other sec­tors of the In­dian econ­omy.

as part of the con­sul­ta­tion process, Trai first re­leased its Pre-con­sul­ta­tion Pa­per on ‘ease of Do­ing Busi­ness in Broad­cast­ing Sec­tor’ on april 17, 2017 and a con­sul­ta­tion Pa­per on July 31, 2017. ac­cord­ing to Trai, the con­sul­ta­tion Pa­per was ini­ti­ated as it is of the view that “the at­trac­tive­ness of busi­ness propo­si­tion is the prime mover and creates the po­ten­tial for in­vest­ments. How­ever, busi­ness po­ten­tial can be fur­ther en­hanced with bet­ter ease of do­ing busi­ness. There­fore, tak­ing a cue from the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to­wards ease of do­ing busi­ness, the author­ity has, suo-moto, de­cided to go for a con­sul­ta­tion with the stake­hold­ers on ease of do­ing busi­ness in the broad­cast­ing sec­tor.”

It also con­ducted an open-house dis­cus­sion with stake­hold­ers on Novem­ber 1, 2017, in which Trai chair­man rs Sharma, along with se­nior of­fi­cials, also par­tic­i­pated. Its rec­om­men­da­tions, how­ever, are still awaited.

mean­while, with­out wait­ing for the Trai rec­om­men­da­tions, the min­istry is­sued an or­der on De­cem­ber 13, 2017 to make pro­vi­sion of charg­ing pro­cess­ing fees for “change of satel­lite, chan­nel name/logo, lan­guage of chan­nel, cat­e­gory of chan­nel, mode of trans­mis­sion, tele­port, tele­port lo­ca­tion and cat­e­gory of chan­nel from gen­eral en­ter­tain­ment chan­nel to news chan­nel for tem­po­rary up­link of a live event”.

It also in­tro­duced new cat­e­gories of chan­nels: re­gional and na­tional! This is rather sur­pris­ing be­cause, as per the ex­tant up­link­ing and Down­link­ing guide­lines of 2011, ev­ery li­cencee, whether it is an as­samese lan­guage chan­nel or a marathi one, is a panin­dia chan­nel and can be dis­trib­uted through­out the coun­try. In fact, many broad­cast­ers ob­tain multi-lan­guage per­mis­sion for their chan­nels to be able to run in mul­ti­ple lan­guage feeds – if the lan­guage is the cri­te­rion then most of the TV chan­nels are both na­tional as well as re­gional. The broad­cast­ing sec­tor was ob­vi­ously con­fused what to make of this move. In fact, the gov­ern­ment-owned Do­or­dar­shan’s own re­gional lan­guage chan­nels are dis­trib­uted through­out the coun­try.

Then came a clar­i­fi­ca­tion from the min­istry on De­cem­ber 20, 2017 which leads to more in­trigue rather than clar­ity. ob­vi­ously, as re­li­gious chan­nels mounted pres­sure, the min­istry clar­i­fied that the fol­low­ing chan­nels may be treated as ‘re­gional’: “(i) all non­hindi and non-english chan­nels, and (ii) the chan­nels which are im­part­ing only yoga and spir­i­tual dis­course shall also be treated as re­gional chan­nel for fee pur­pose only.”

ac­cord­ing to the or­der, for live tele­cast, a re­gional chan­nel (which now in­cludes chan­nels show­ing ‘yoga and spir­i­tual dis­course’ pro­grammes) has to pay rs 50,000 per day per event and a na­tional chan­nel (in­clud­ing gec and sports chan­nels) has to pay rs 1 lakh per day per event.

leave aside the other changes

men­tioned above, let us com­pare the min­istry’s De­cem­ber 13, 2017 or­der and the Trai’s con­sul­ta­tion Pa­per of July 31, 2017 on ‘ease of Do­ing Busi­ness in Broad­cast­ing Sec­tor’ with a par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to the change of cat­e­gory of a chan­nel from gen­eral en­ter­tain­ment chan­nel to News chan­nel for tem­po­rary up­link of a live event.

Trai’s con­sul­ta­tion pa­per did not seek stake­hold­ers’ re­sponse on the change of cat­e­gory of a chan­nel from gen­eral en­ter­tain­ment chan­nel to news chan­nel for tem­po­rary up­link of a live event, but raised the larger ques­tion per­tain­ing to the “is­sue of tem­po­rary live up­link­ing by non-news and cur­rent af­fairs TV chan­nels” and asked stake­hold­ers to pro­vide their replies to the fol­low­ing ques­tion:

“Is present frame­work of seek­ing per­mis­sion for tem­po­rary up­link­ing of live cov­er­age of events of na­tional im­por­tance in­clud­ing sports events is com­pli­cated and re­stric­tive? If yes, what changes do you sug­gest and why? give your sug­ges­tions with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

all ma­jor broad­cast­ers in­clud­ing Zee, Sony, Star and Vi­a­com, in their sub­mit­ted com­ments, have ex­pressed the need to do away with the re­quire­ment for prior ap­proval for the up­link of the live events. The broad­cast­ers have stated that there al­ready ex­ist a num­ber of laws which are ap­pli­ca­ble to broad­cast­ers, and any ad­di­tional tem­po­rary per­mis­sion rep­re­sents an un­nec­es­sary pro­ce­dural bot­tle­neck, which adds to the un­cer­tainty. They have also rec­om­mended that the use of tele­port/dsng vans should be al­lowed for the up­link of live events, with an in­ti­ma­tion to be filed with the I and B min­istry.

Kh­elo in­dia

What is more dis­con­cert­ing is that on one hand the gov­ern­ment is in mis­sion mode to pro­mote sports through its flag­ship pro­gramme, Kh­elo In­dia, and it has al­ready formed an olympics task force to start pre­par­ing ath­letes for the next olympics, in Tokyo in 2020. Sachin Ten­dulkar, In­dia’s iconic sports star and a mem­ber of the ra­jya Sabha, won­dered, “We re­joice when medals come, we’re happy when we are so care­fully plan­ning the de­vel­op­ment of sports at a macro level. We say we love sports. We’re do­ing good in so many as­pects. But are we fo­cused on get­ting bet­ter?” The lat­est move of the min­istry clearly high­lights the lack of fo­cus and co­or­di­na­tion on the part of the var­i­ous arms of the gov­ern­ment when it comes to pro­mo­tion of sports in In­dia.

Who can deny the role played by sports chan­nels in pro­mo­tion of sports in the coun­try? ac­cord­ing to the find­ings of chrome Data an­a­lyt­ics and me­dia, an an­a­lyt­ics and strat­egy firm, which con­ducted a study in four met­ro­pol­i­tan cities in In­dia, ti­tled, ‘aware­ness and con­sump­tion of Sports leagues in In­dia’, showed that 92 per­cent of the re­spon­dents watched sports on TV screen. Tele­vi­sion, as a medium, is a key in­flu­encer in cre­at­ing as­pi­ra­tions through role mod­els and pop­u­lar­ity of sports in par­tic­u­lar could not have reached such lev­els with­out the sup­port of tele­vi­sion.

The emer­gence of In­dia in the world of cricket, bad­minton, box­ing, wrestling, ten­nis, kabaddi and foot­ball is not just flash in the pan but the re­sult of the sus­tained ef­forts of all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the sports broad­cast­ers, who have in­vested money and bring lat­est tech­nolo­gies to pack­age sports as an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion to the young In­di­ans.

Through this illthought-out move of in­tro­duc­ing pro­cess­ing fee for live tele­cast­ing sport­ing events the min­istry has ef­fec­tively cre­ated a stum­bling block for the pro­mo­tion of sports in In­dia. Doesn’t this send a con­fus­ing sig­nal for the pro­mo­tion of sports in In­dia par­tic­u­larly when the prime min­is­ter gives a clar­ion call to pro­mote sports through Kh­elo In­dia and an olympian heads the min­istry of youth af­fairs and sports in ad­di­tion to be­ing the min­is­ter of state for in­for­ma­tion & broad­cast­ing?

So what could be the plau­si­ble rea­son for this move? Does the min­istry as­sume – although com­pletely wrongly – that when gec chan­nels live up­link spe­cial or sport­ing events they do not pay a sin­gle penny to the gov­ern­ment of In­dia? This is due to a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion or co­or­di­na­tion be­tween min­istries and the ab­sence of con­sul­ta­tion with stake­hold­ers as broad­cast­ers pay both WPC and Nocc, for fre­quency al­lo­ca­tion and mon­i­tory charges on a per day per event ba­sis!

The net neg­a­tive im­pact of this or­der is that for longer du­ra­tion tour­na­ments like a cricket se­ries, do­mes­tic cricket tour­na­ments, Santosh Tro­phy, Bad­minton league, Kabaddi league, I-league Foot­ball Tour­na­ment and In­dian Su­per league, hence­forth the sports broad­cast­ers have to ad­di­tion­ally shell out crores of ru­pees if they have to live tele­cast any of the event on mul­ti­ple chan­nels to in­crease au­di­ence reach and en­gage­ment.

So let’s fi­nally ask the prime min­is­ter whether we should re­joice and ap­pre­ci­ate when he wants In­dia to Kh­elo or de­spond and lose spirit when the I&B min­istry creates hur­dles to live tele­cast na­tional and in­ter­na­tional sport­ing events in In­dia?

Arun ku­mar

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