Broadcast Regulation 3.0, Commissions and Omissions

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Broadcast Regulation 3.0, Commissions and Omissions Blog Image

Why in News?

  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) released the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023, marking a significant step in the regulation of broadcasting.
  • The bill is part of a series of endeavours to regulate broadcasting in an integrated manner.

A Timeline of Regulatory Measures

  • The last significant initiative for such regulation occurred in 2007 with the Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill.
  • In 1997, during the early stages of cable and satellite broadcasting, the sector witnessed its first attempt at an integrated regulatory framework through the Broadcasting Bill.

Key Highlights of Draft of Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023

  • Consolidation and Modernisation
    • It addresses a long-standing need of consolidating and updating the regulatory provisions for various broadcasting services under a single legislative framework.
    • This move streamlines the regulatory process, making it more efficient and contemporary.
    • It extends its regulatory purview to encompass broadcasting over-the-top (OTT) content and digital news and current affairs - currently regulated through IT Act 2000 and regulations made there under.
  • Contemporary Definitions and Future-Ready Provisions: To keep pace with the evolving technologies and services, the bill introduces comprehensive definitions for contemporary broadcasting terms and incorporates provisions for emerging broadcasting technologies.
  • Strengthens the Self-Regulation Regime: It enhances self-regulation with the introduction of ‘Content evaluation committees’ and evolves the existing Inter-Departmental Committee into a more participative and broader ‘Broadcast Advisory Council’.
  • Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: The bill addresses the specific needs of persons with disabilities by providing for enabling provisions for issue of comprehensive accessibility guidelines.

Positive Provisions in the Bill

  • Provision of Subscriber Data Maintenance and Audits: The bill mandates broadcasting network operators and broadcasters to maintain records of subscriber data, and subject this to periodic external audits, as is the international norm.
  • Proposal for a Methodology for Audience Measurement
    • The bill aims to establish a framework for audience measurement and the sale of ratings data.
    • Both measures are designed to introduce essential transparency into the previously obscure value chain of the cable and satellite television industry in our nation.
  • Terrestrial Broadcasting and Competition
    • The provision to permit private actors in terrestrial broadcasting will encourage competition to Doordarshan, the state broadcaster, as is in many G-20 countries.
    • In 2016, TRAI had initiated consultations on this and at that time, there was an opinion about terrestrial broadcasting proving viable only for large players, which diminishes the diversity of suppliers in broadcasting as a whole.
    • This problem can be addressed if the Bill allows terrestrial broadcasting to those not involved in other forms of broadcasting.

Concerns Surrounding the Bill

  • Absence of Privacy Protection: The Bill completely lacks any guardrails to shield the privacy of subscribers and audiences in practices of data collection.
  • Inclusion of OTT Content Suppliers as Broadcasting Services: A major concern is the Bill including OTT content suppliers in the definition of broadcasting services. It has also been proposed in TRAI’s ‘National Broadcasting Policy’.
  • Impact on News Media and Journalists
    • For the news media and their audience, there is a different concern.
    • The Bill’s expanded definition of broadcasting narrows the conditions in which journalists and news outlets that are not a part of large, multi-lingual television networks can continue their professional pursuits.
  • Questionable Directions and Oversight: Content Evaluation Committee
    • While it is fruitful for a news outlet to have an oversight body, warranting a Content Evaluation Committee takes the Bill in a questionable direction.
    • Since the role of an internal oversight mechanism is to maintain the accuracy of news and quality of journalism, its design is best left to individual news outlets.
    • They could decide whether to design this along the lines of an ombudsperson, as some newspapers attempted in the past, or akin to a Readers’ Editor, as practised by few online news outlets.
  • Leeway to the Government in the Name of Public Interest
    • The Bill empowers the government to inspect broadcasters without intimating them in advance, and to impound their equipment, presumably including those issued to their employees.
    • Moreover, breaches of the Programme Code and Advertisement Code result in the removal or alteration of content, supplementing existing actions such as halting transmissions for specific periods.
    • Lastly, the Bill provides significant authority to the government to restrict broadcasting and distribution in the name of ‘public interest’, a term alarmingly left undefined.
    • These intrusive mechanisms heighten the susceptibility of professional news providers to external pressure groups.
    • This should be a cause for concern for those deliberating on legislating the Bill, regardless of their parliamentary affiliations.

Significant Omissions in the Bill

  • Lack of Regulation on Ownership
    • The bill fails to address issues of ownership in the media landscape, similar to the TRAI paper.
    • Despite an emphasis on audience measurement methodologies, there is a noticeable absence of provisions to regulate cross-media and vertical ownership.
    • Cross-media ownership, as previously identified by TRAI, poses a threat to diversity by consolidating media power.
    • The interconnected interests of cable and DTH distributors, news broadcasters, and telecom companies contribute to vertical integration, potentially limiting the range of news sources available to the audience.
  • Absence of an Independent Broadcast Regulator
    • The bill is equally silent on the establishment of an independent broadcast regulator.
    • The idea of an independent regulator was previously suggested in the 'airwaves' judgment of 1995, the 1997 Broadcasting Bill, and reiterated in the 2007 iteration of the Bill.
    • Instead of an independent regulator, the Bill proposes a 'Broadcast Advisory Council' to handle viewer grievances and violations of the Programme Code and Advertisement Code.
    • This raises concerns about the Council's capacity to address grievances from a vast audience and questions its autonomy.

Way Forward: A Regulation on Conflict of Interest is the Need of the Hour

  • The Indian government has not effectively managed conflicts of interest in the media industry, especially the connections between MSOs (Multi-Service Operators), politicians, and vertical integration.
  • As this has led to a loss of trust, a regulation on conflicts of interest is the need of the hour.

Conclusion

  • As the most recent extension of efforts to formulate a comprehensive regulatory framework for broadcasting, this Bill should seize the opportunity to safeguard press freedom and diversity.
  • To achieve this goal, it needs to proactively address certain notable omissions, reevaluate intrusive commissions, and refine potentially beneficial provisions.

Q1) What is an OTT platform?

An OTT platform, or Over-The-Top platform, refers to a streaming service that delivers content over the internet without requiring users to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite TV service. These platforms allow users to access a wide range of content, including movies, TV shows, live events, and original programming, directly through the internet. OTT platforms are accessible on various devices such as smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and computers, enabling users to watch content at their convenience. Popular examples of OTT platforms include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and many others. 

Q2) What is IPTV and how is it regulated?

IPTV (Internet Protocol television) is a service that provides television programming and other video content using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite, as opposed to broadcast TV, cable TV or satellite signals. The delivery of online content through IPTV is regulated by the MIB through the specific Guidelines for Provisioning of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) Services. The cable operators providing the IPTV services are governed by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and any other laws as may be applicable.


Source: The Hindu