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Why is this man smiling? - The Indian Express

Kaveree Bamzai ()
4 February 1997

Title : Why is this man smiling?
Author : Kaveree Bamzai
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 4, 1997

It's ironic that the two prime movers of the Broadcast Bill are now
connected with Star TV, the network whose plans it may hurt most.
While former Doordarshan Director-General Rathikant Basu heads
Start TV, India, the other, former Information and Broadcasting
Secretary Bhaskar Ghose, has just premiered an eponymous show on
Star Movies.

But then it is also ironic that the Bill, which intends to make the
State network in independent player in the media marketplace,
actually concentrates even more powers in the Central Government,
specifically the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting,
C.M. Ibrahim, a man whose party is just one of the 13 in this
coalition government, and which has just 46 members in the Lok
Sabha (Ibrahim, by the way, isn't even an elected member of

For, the Broadcast Authority of India, which will regulate the
media environment in the country, will actually be hand-picked by
just three people, on whose "recommendation" the President will
appoint them. Guess who the three people will be? The chairperson
of the Council of States (i.e. Vice President of India), and the
Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting. The Broadcast
Authority will comprise one whole-time chairman, 10 members and
four ex officio members -Secretaries of Information and
Broadcasting, Department of Telecommunication, Space and the
Secretary General of the Authority. These men and women will be
responsible for "licensing of TV and radio programme services in
the country". Even the Ministry of Home Affairs in its
observations on the broadcasting law questioned the "property of
including a nominee of the President and the Chairman of the
Council of States in the Selection Committee".

The Authority has wide-ranging, almost Draconian powers. It will
not only award licences through an open bid but also decide whom
not to award it to in "public interest". It will also assign
frequencies in consultation with the Wireless Adviser, which in
effect gives it greater powers than the International Telecom Union
(ITU), of which India is a signatory.

The ITU is like the gatekeeper of the sky and assigns frequencies
to all international satellites. How the Government proposes to
assign a different set of frequencies should be interesting to

The Authority will also "permit reception of an unlicensed foreign
satellite channel in India if such a channel is (i) free to air,
(ii) (a) does not carry advertisement; or (b) carries some
advertisement, but the channel is devoted solely to international
news and current affairs; and (iii) meets the broadcast/programme
standards set by the Authority for the purpose".

As far as licences are concerned, a "person shall be allowed to
hold licences in only one category" amongst terrestrial radio,
terrestrial TV, satellite radio, domestic satellite TV,
non-domestic satellite TV, Direct-To-home, and local delivery
(cable network including MMDS) services. Guess who will decide who
is not eligible for more than one? The Central Government, of

Not only will the Central Government decide the restrictions on the
number and accumulation of licences, it may also, by notification,
"substitute a different limit for any limit, for the time being,
specified in the schedule". Apart from this, the Central
Government has other discretionary powers "in the event of war or a
natural calamity of national magnitude", during which it may, in
public interest, "take over the control and/or management of any
broadcast facility". It can also, in public interest, again,
require the authority to direct any licensee to (a) transmit in
their services such announcements in such a manner as may be
considered necessary; (b) stop the carriage/broadcast of any
programme/service which is considered prejudicial to friendly
relations with foreign government, public order, security of state,
communal harmony etc.

What's more, the Central Government will, in effect, be financing
the Broadcast Authority, through "grants-in-aid" in addition to
"allowing retention of the proceeds of the application fee received
with each application".

Though the accounts of the Authority will be audited by the
Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, it is not clear to whom
it is answerable. Is it to Parliament or the Central Government
(read Information and Broadcasting Minister of the day)?

Because, while the Authority has been asked to submit a report to
the government on its activities during the preceding financial
year, and "containing such information relating to the proceedings
and policy of the Authority, as the Government may prescribe from
time to time," it is the Government that "shall present a copy of
every such report before Parliament as soon as practicable".

This after the Supreme Court judgement by Justices P.B. Sawant and
S. Mohan, which says "the airwaves or frequencies are public
property. Their use has to be controlled and regulated by a public
authority in the interests of the public".

Ibrahim's definition of the public and its interest is very
different from that of others, as he has shown in the Civil
Aviation sector.

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