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Government working on national broadcasting policy, proposes unified self-regulatory mechanism for all broadcasting platforms

I&B secretary Amit Khare said the policies have to be realigned not for regulating but to provide level-playing field for all platforms. Star India’s Chairman and CEO Uday Shankar said there’s a need to streamline the policy framework. Economist Bibek Debroy said banning content today isn’t an effective idea

(L-R) Bibek Debroy, Uday Shankar and Amit Khare

The government is considering a complete overhaul of the regulatory environment of India’s broadcasting industry. To start with, the information and broadcasting ministry will soon come up with a national broadcasting policy that would cover all platforms, including digital, television and cinema.

With the changing landscape of the content delivery platforms, the need for a new policy that’s more global in its outlook is being felt. The move is likely to give a big boost to India’s media and entertainment industry which, the government believes, has a huge job creating potential.

The government is of the view that the sector should be freed of all archaic regulations that were platform-specific.

Speaking at FICCI Frames, 2019, Amit Khare, Information and Broadcasting Secretary, said the government was working on a national broadcasting policy along with FICCI. He said that a unified self-regulator, which is platform-agnostic, should be there for the broadcasting sector.

Khare said that the policies that exist in the country are not developed keeping in mind the content. The policies and regulatory framework were created more on the basis of platforms, which was the need of the hour in the ’50s and ’60s.

He commented that now with convergence of platforms, the policies have become a little complicated. “There are several platforms, so now we have to realign our policies not for regulating but to provide level-playing field and the idea is not a body for broadcast, television or digital but to have one self-regulatory body that support each other and complement each other. It should be cooperative competition.”

Uday Shankar, Chairman and CEO, Star India, and also Vice-President, FICCI, pointed out that there is some kind of unevenness in regulations and there is a requirement to align that.

Speaking at the discussion, Shankar posed a question to other panellists, asking them if there's a need for government intervention to unleash the potential of industry and will it be feasible to regulate.

With the constant evolution of the technology and advent of digital, the imposition of ban or regulation on content is not effective. Hence, Bibek Debroy, Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister believes, that the regulatory content has to change according to the technology.

“Today one can’t impose ban of any kind in the country. Hence, what worries me is the content of the regulation. The movement we have a regulation on content that is static in nature than it become entry barrier for new content. If technology changes then the regulatory content also has to change. The ideal template is the one which makes it easier for all the entrepreneur and not only M&E. The template is to make entrepreneurs’ life simple and that is if we want to simplify taxes than we should unify taxes and nothing special for M&E. And, if the M&E has the USP which i think it does they don't need hand holding by the government,” he said.

Shankar said the share of the Indian M&E sector in the national GDP is still less than a per cent whereas countries with similar economies were close to 1.5% of the GDP growth.

But Khare feels that there is a huge scope for the M&E industry to grow on the back of three main factors -- regional language content, exploitation of international market and by increasing the number of theatres.

Khare pointed out that both the government and the industry should work together to bring out the talent from North-East and other secluded regions. “We have to focus on the states like Assam and Odisha. Somehow our focus remains only on certain markets like Mumbai or Hyderabad. Content creation is not the sole authority of just two people seating in these places. In fact a lot of content comes through smaller states and they need to be encouraged. The diversity coming out of these states will certainly help us to grow.”

Debroy agreed with Khare, stating that regional plays a significant role and the strength of India’s M&E industry is in vernacular language and not in English.

Khare said there are good entertaining films but they don’t have viewers as there aren’t enough screens. Following the advent of technology, he sees huge potential in the animation and kids’ content. “Doordarshan does not have any kids’ channel. Among the 875 channels that we have given licences, very few channels focus on kids’ content.”

While Shankar agrees that regional content is the new wave, he feels the issue of lack of theatres is going to get more complicated.

He further said that the problem with the lack of theatre is that they are not coming due to several policies and framework. While more films are being made in Hindi and other regional languages, they are not getting enough screens to exhibit, which is becoming a real challenge. Not just lack of screens but there's also the lack of infrastructure.

Debroy feels that the infrastructure problem is not specific to the M&E industry. “India has strength in human resources and since the M&E industry is driven by human resources, obviously India should be doing well in this sector, not only within the country but also overseas,” he said.

Khare pointed out that the industry expects certain things from the government and vice versa. “The M&E industry is fast growing, and has the potential of creating jobs and is also making a perceptual change. So, the government itself is very keen to build up on these sectors for creation of jobs, generating resources and creation of a new India,” he said.

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