Broadcast regulator Bill gets a setback as stakeholders back out

Written by Ashish Sinha | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 29 2010, 06:32am hrs
Setting up an autonomous broadcast regulator through an act of Parliament for the Indian cable industry has received a set back with various stakeholders, including some leading broadcasters, developing cold feet. The proposed regulatorcalled the National Broadcasting Authority of India (NBAI)would have taken over the regulations of carriage from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). Also, the NBAI would have also looked at regulating content.

The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry is stunned at the sudden U-turn taken by a section of the cable and broadcast industry as most stakeholders had supported the initiative that was under discussions for the last eight months.

Sources say mistrust and disagreements over the composition and the powers of the proposed NBAI has led to the derailment of what was the most important initiative undertaken by the I&B minister Ambika Soni. Sources said, the government was expected to make announcements regarding the setting up of NBAI in the Monsoon Session of Parliament that began on Monday.

We have sought more time from the ministry to discuss the matter. There is opposition to the dominant role of government in the proposed NBAI, a top broadcaster told FE. This response has stunned top I&B officials, sources said.

The government has been completely transparent over NBAI with all the stakeholders. Be it the Supreme Court, Election Commission, the telecom regulator or a similar body abroad, the government has a role in it. That does not make such bodies ineffective.

Its an unfair criticism and uncalled for objections on part of the stakeholders, a top source in the I&B ministry said.

The formation of NBAI has been a top priority of Soni since the earlier efforts to bring the broadcast sector under a Parliament-backed legal entity had been futile in the last 10 years. However, this time the government was confident to push through a Bill on the floor of the house, especially after getting the backing of all recognised bodies of the cable and broadcast sector, sources said. What we are proposing will be a unique model for the world and in full consultation and involvement of all stakeholders, a senior I&B official had told FE recently.

According to a draft report of the task force handling the matter, the setting up of proposed NBAI has been accepted by all stakeholders. There was a near unanimity that such an authority should be mandated to handle all the issues of carriage that are currently being handled by Trai, the report said. However, stakeholders felt that the role of NBAI is handling the content issues should be of a limited nature, largely as an appellate body. This has been agreed by the I&B ministry, informed sources said.

On content issues, the proposed NBAI would be the third-level appellate body headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or the high courts while the first two-tiers of regulations would be at the level of the broadcaster (first tier) and the industry body (second tier). The I&B ministry is planning to give powers to the recognised industry bodies in this regard, a government official said.

However, with broadcasters not supporting the formation of NBAI in its current form, the process may have to start from the scratch, experts feel.

A Parliament approved dedicated regulator has been a long standing demand of various broadcasters and media firms on the lines of Federal Communications Commission in the United States and Office of Communications in the United Kingdom.

This is significant because in nearly two decades of the existence of cable and satellite channels, there has not been a dedicated regulator for the broadcasting industry. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the telecom regulator, also looks after the broadcasting sector which has over 550 channels reaching 90 million cable homes and 25 million DTH subscribers.