Media booming, but regulating content urgent: Sharma


New Delhi : Hailing an ”unprecedented media boom” in India, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Anand Sharma Wednesday underlined an “urgent need” for regulating content and said the government was trying to find “a balance between freedom of the press and societal concerns” in the proposed broadcast code.

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Reeling off a spate of statistics, Sharma underlined the government’s commitment to a liberal media policy that has made media and entertainment “one of the fastest growing sectors” of India’s economy.

“In the last few years there has been an exponential growth in the number of television channels and also private FM radio operators,” Sharma said at the Economic Editors’ Conference here.

In the last financial year the entertainment and media industry witnessed a growth of 17 percent while the TV industry is expected to grow annually at around 22 percent and the radio industry is set to grow at 200 percent over the next five years, the minister said

The print media recorded a growth of 16 percent over the previous year and has now reached a level of nearly Rs.150 billion, the minister said while alluding to increasing foreign direct investiment (FDI) flows into the print media and the growth of the media industry in “in a competitive rather than a protective environment”.

The entertainment and media industry reached an estimated size of Rs.513 billion and has grown cumulatively at 19 percent in the last four years, Sharma said.

The advertising industry grew by 22 percent last year and online advertising has grown by nearly 70 percent in a single year, he said.

But this media boom has made a debate and consensus on the issue of content in the electronic debate necessary, the minister said.

“We are concerned about the issue of content. The Supreme Court has made serious observations on this issue and we feel that there is a strong and urgent need of content regulation of some kind,” he said.

“We are seized of this matter and are trying to find a solution which strikes a balance between freedom of creative expression and the need of content regulation. It is our endeavour to build a consensus of this issue,” he stressed.

“We want an acceptable balance that recognizes freedom of the press and societal concerns. We are actively addressing the issue,” he told reporters when asked about the contentious broadcasting code.

The minister’s remarks come days after the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, a body that represents over 200 TV channels, including Prasar Bharati, presented a draft content code to the government for its approval.

The IBF’s draft code envisages two categories of TV programmes: one for general viewing and the other for restricted viewing.

Alluding to unprecedented boom in FM radio industry, Sharma said the government is in the process of finalizing Phase-III which shall expand FM radio services to 275 cities across the world.

“We are proposing foreign direct investment up to 49 percent for non-news channels and up to 26 percent for news channels,” he said. “We are awaiting the comments from TRAI after which approval of the cabinet shall be sought,” he said.

The minister also said that the government was considering allowing FM radio channels, known mostly for their music programmes, to broadcast news.

“We will take a decision on this soon. The issue is under consideration,” Sharma told reporters here Wednesday when asked about a decision on allowing FM channels to broadcast news.

“We are considering it. But the FM channels will not be allowed to generate news. They can only source it from All India Radio,” Sharma said.

There is, however, no deadline for Phase III, Sushma Singh, secretary, Information and Broadcasting, told IANS.