January 19, 2024
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is the new Broadcasting Services Bill good or bad?
The broadcast media landscape can sometimes be complicated to navigate and sort through. We’re in an era of widespread digital media and online content. Hence, more variables and new technologies are at play. Companies in this space cater to millions and play with crores of rupees. Regulating this shifting landscape can be tricky.
The government seems to have an answer – The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill from the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry. The government has seemingly taken note of the changing media landscape and formulated plans to regulate it for modern times. However, several groups have raised concerns about censorship and content control. Is the Bill good or bad news?
The broadcast landscape in India is no longer confined to good old-fashioned TV. It’s also no longer just satellite or terrestrial channels. People watch shows on streaming platforms on multiple screens at home and on the go.
The TV broadcast ecosystem has three stakeholders – broadcasters, distributors, and consumers. The content generated by broadcasters is distributed to consumers via cable, direct-to-home (DTH), or online. India’s volume of internet users is expected to overtake the US by 2030, and the digital media and entertainment landscape, currently valued at $12 billion, is expected to triple in that time.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been in charge of the broadcast sector since 2004. The 1995 Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act was expanded via an amendment in 2011. Since 1995, Parliament has thrice considered a specialised regulator for broadcasting. They’ve even formed committees that backed the consideration, but nothing concrete came of it.
Concerning self-regulation, things get complicated. In 2008, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) was formed and set up the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) that issued a code of ethics and standards for self-regulation. However, they only had jurisdiction over broadcasters who were NBA members.
Other legislation like the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 is widely considered inadequate for modern times. TRAI was always meant to be a temporary regulator but ended up with additional responsibilities like regulating ad time on pay channels and pay channel rates. So, things needed an upgrade.
What the government did take notice of was the changing landscape of digital news media. The need for government regulation was centred on two principles – create a level playing field for print, broadcast, and digital media and empower users through a redressal mechanism. The result was the contentious IT Rules, 2021.
Now, with the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, the government has included over-the-top (OTT) content and digital news published by individuals. Broadly, the Bill seeks to replace the 1995 Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act. It has provisions for self-regulation with “Content evaluation committees”, statutory penalties for operators and broadcasters, infrastructure sharing among broadcasting network operators and carriage of platform services. The Bill also has room for any new platform or service developed in the future.
The Bill hasn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms. While the government sees this as a necessary way to streamline regulations, others see government censorship and oversight concerns. Does the Bill signal a net good or bad for the Indian broadcasting landscape?
VIEW: Much-needed piece of legislation
There are a few components of the Bill which are especially crucial and necessary. In line with international norms, the Bill obliges broadcasting network operators and broadcasters to keep records of subscriber data. These will also be subject to external audits. To bring in data transparency, the Bill will outline a methodology for audience measurement and the sale of ratings data. The state broadcaster, Doordarshan, will get much-needed competition with private players in the terrestrial broadcasting space.
Terrestrial broadcasting was previously seen only as a space for large players, including those already in the cable and broadcasting space. If this persists, it would limit the scope of diversity in broadcasting. What the Indian media landscape desperately needed was uniformity, which the existing rules didn’t have. TV channels followed censorship rules, while OTT platforms weren’t under any regulatory umbrella.
The Indian broadcasting space is undergoing sweeping changes, and digital technologies are taking the lead. Traditional boundaries are now blurred, and established business models are being challenged. Consumers are shifting away from linear TV to online streaming. Keeping all this in mind, the Bill streamlines the regulations and introduces contemporary definitions for emerging technologies. It’s a forward-looking document.
COUNTERVIEW: Too many issues with it
The problem with OTT and digital news being included is there’s a sense that Big Brother will be watching. Can the government stop the transmission of any channel? Apparently, yes. Any authorised officer can do just that if they think it’s in the public’s interest. Even concerning censorship, the proposed Broadcast Advisory Council, which will have the final say on censoring content, will comprise members appointed by the Centre. No one’s holding out hope that the Centre will pick people from the broadcast industry or outside experts.
There’s another law already mentioned which includes OTT services, the 2021 IT Rules. We still don’t know how this Bill and the IT Rules on OTT services will intertwine or differentiate from one another. Keeping with OTT platforms, many of them license content from abroad. This means even these will likely be subject to scrutiny from Content Evaluation Committees (CECs) that are mandated to be set up by every broadcasting network operator under the Bill.
Earlier this week, the Editor’s Guild of India (EGI) wrote a letter to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on concerns about the draft Broadcasting Services Bill. The EGI outlined what many opponents of the Bill have articulated – it would result in an “overbearing system of self-regulation” and is adverse to freedom of speech and the press. The Internet Freedom Foundation examined the Bill and outlined its similar concerns, in particular how previous attempts for self-regulation were seen with scepticism given censorship worries.
- Review: Status of Broadcast News Media regulation in India – Factly
- Onus of content, power of inspection, penalties: Centre’s new broadcasting bill – India Today
- Broadcasting regulation bill and its impact on content world – The Economic Times
- Why India’s new draft broadcast bill has raised fears of censorship and press suppression – Scroll
- Editors Guild of India calls the broadcast bill vague and excessive, highlighting censorship concerns – MediaNama
- Netflix, Viacom18 among streaming firms set to oppose India broadcasting bill – Reuters
- Broadcast Services Bill not looking like a wow: Our First Read – Internet Freedom Foundation
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Broadcasting Services Bill is good for the Indian media landscape.
b) The Broadcasting Services Bill is bad for the Indian media landscape.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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