Broadcasters will be consulted on new TV guidelines: Soni


New Delhi : With the government’s decision to recast policy guidelines for TV channels sparking outrage, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni Monday assured broadcasters her ministry will hold discussions with them to allay their apprehensions.

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“We will be holding discussions with broadcasters’ bodies,” Soni told reporters here, adding that the government would prefer self-regulation by broadcasters.

The government Friday amended guidelines to toughen eligibility criteria for those seeking permission to run TV channels in the country to weed out non-serious players from “crowding the electronic media landscape”.

The cabinet also approved a proposal of the ministry that entails the power to cancel the licence of news channels if they were found guilty of five “violations” of the programming and advertising code. This decision has been seen by broadcasters’ associations as a “threat” to the freedom of the press.

The National Broadcasters’ Association (NBA) slammed this policy guideline as “a direct assault on the self-regulatory regime put in place by broadcasters”.

“Such a proposed step is wholly retrograde and places broadcasters at the arbitrary mercy of the ministry of information and broadcasting; and is therefore a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression and will not be countenanced by the NBA,” the broadcasters’ body said in a statement.

The move has also elicited strong criticisms from veteran journalists who have opposed attempts to control the press.

“It’s very reprehensible. This is one way of censorship. The government can’t be judge of what content is broadcast on TV channels,” Kuldip Nayar, a veteran journalist and former high commissioner to Britain, told IANS.

Agreed S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Indian Express and The Statesman. He said while there have been complaints about content and vulgarity in programmes shown on TV, the changed guidelines will restrict the freedom of expression.

“The government has to go back to the drawing board and consult broadcasters on how best to address issues relating to content,” he said.

The new policy guidelines for companies seeking to operate TV channels in India include revising the net worth criteria for uplinking of non-news and current affairs channels and downlinking of foreign channels from Rs.1.5 crore to Rs.5 crore for the first channel and Rs.2.5 crore for each additional channel.

For uplinking of news and current affairs channels, the net worth criteria has been increased from Rs.3 crore to Rs.20 crore for the first channel and Rs.5 crore for each additional channel.