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I&B secretary Sunil Arora on news channel ownership, cable TV digitisation and FM radio

MUMBAI: The government will not be in the best position to clamp down on news channels who have dubious interests as it will be accused of intervening in the industry’s affairs. The industry body rather should take a firm stand on the issue, Information & Broadcasting secretary Sunil Arora said.

On a question by Uday Shankar as to what the government’s view about the presence of unscrupulous elements in the TV news industry is, Arora put the ball into the Star India CEO’s by questioning what role industry bodies are playing to prevent this.

“If the government took a clampdown on them, then it would be government intervention. People would ask why government was doing this,” he contended.

Arora also said that putting caps on investments is not a good idea because the people who are using news channels to further their business goals have deep pockets. “What we may do is make industry bodies far harsher towards such fringe elements who are trying to sub-serve their business interests via news channels,” he stated.

Sunil Arora , udya shankar and sippy

Arora said the government is concerned about the viability of the TV industry, particularly the standalone news channels.

“We are very concerned about the viability of the industry, especially the standalone news channels. At the moment, there are big media houses that can cross subsidise loss-making channels. But the small channels including entertainment channels are not in the pink of financial health,” the I&B secretary said at FICCI Frames 2016, where he was participating in a dialogue.

In the same breath, Arora said that the industry should not expect the government to handhold them or to run their business. “It has to be decided whether the business goes by the market principles or by the handholding of the government,” he stated.

Another question is where the government handholding should stop. “Conscience intervention of the government wherever required should be done and ought to be done. But at the same time to expect the government to be running any business for anybody is not possible,” he noted.

Asked whether technology has outpaced regulation, Arora concurred and said that “certain basic things would be there; otherwise, why do you think there are so many lobbyists in Washington DC?”

“Even if you see Uber or Ola, do you think the guy who is driving the taxi will be allowed if he doesn’t know how to drive? He will be allowed to drive only under the so-called driving licence rules,” he said, in response to Shankar’s observation on how new-age internet services are rendering regulations ineffective.

He also asserted that the system will intervene whenever there is a threat to the nation’s interest or security. “As a civil servant and as a citizen, I want minimum regulation, but if someone starts something on the internet posing a security threat, do you think the system will not intervene?” he said.

He also said that the issue of security clearance, which was holding up various permissions like TV channel licences, has been sorted out. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has done more clearances in the past six months than in the past three years.

“I had two meetings with the current home secretary on the aspect of security clearance. The MHA has agreed to speed up things on their side by liberalising the security clearance regime. This is a forward-looking process. We have to take things to its logical conclusion so that the timing is reduced further,” he disclosed.

The government is committed to completing digitisation despite bottlenecks. “We are committed to digitisation. Some cable associations challenged and got stay orders on DAS (digital addressable system) Phase III deadline. We have challenged the stay orders in the Supreme Court by getting these cases clubbed. We don’t want the process to be stopped,” he stated.

On the issue of indigenous set-top boxes (STBs), Arora said that he met the cabinet secretary and requested him that STB should be an important vertical of the electronics industry as part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative. “They have agreed but the industry has to take a far larger role,” he said.

Arora also expressed concern over less than 10% share of Indian STBs. “We want the industry to look at this opportunity under the Make in India initiative and produce more STBs in India under the Electronics Manufacturing scheme,” he said.

Learning from the recent FM radio Phase III e-auctions, the ministry is going to make recommendations to the cabinet about such proposals as lock-in and reserve price. “We have taken learning from FM Phase III auction on issues like lock-in period and reserve price. We will soon be going to the Cabinet with our proposals based on the learning,” he stated.

Private FM radio broadcasters are unhappy about the three-year lock-in clause and the fact that they cannot go below 51% during this period.

Arora also asserted that the ministry is committed to promoting ease of doing business in the media and entertainment sector.

“One of our primary objectives is to bring down the number of visitors to Shastri Bhavan to a trickle. Move towards less regulation and facilitate India to become the hub of media and entertainment,” Arora said.

Focusing on the ease of doing business, Arora informed that a Film Facilitation Office has opened in the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) to function as a single-window service for film-related clearances.

The secretary said an award has been instituted as part of the National Film Awards to honour the states that are most film friendly. In 2016, Gujarat has been adjudged the most film-friendly state, followed by UP and Kerala.

He also informed that a decision has been taken to set up the National Centre of Excellence in Animation, Gaming and Visual Effects, in Mumbai. The government of Maharashtra is providing 25-acre land near Film City in Goregaon for the institute.

The I&B secretary also said that the government has approved Rs 598 crore for the National Film Heritage Mission to preserve and promote India’s rich film and cultural heritage.

He also said that a National Museum of Indian Cinema is coming up in Films Division Complex on Peddar Road with several interactive exhibits. “The Prime Minister has taken a keen interest in this museum, which is being curated by the National Council of Science Museums, Kolkata,” he added.

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