Government may limit the number of TV channels

New Delhi : Ruling out censorship or content regulation, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni Tuesday called for setting up an independent mechanism that will balance the freedom of expression and sensitivities of civil society.

“The government’s effort is to bring out a road map to ensure that nobody’s constitutional right (to freedom of speech and expression) is violated and the sensibilities of society are addressed,” Soni said here.

She was speaking at an interactive discussion on ‘Government Regulation or Self-Regulation’ that was organised by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry here.

Aware of the touchiness the very mention of the word “regulator” sparks among media persons who tend to see it as an attempt to muzzle their freedom, Soni said she would prefer “a mechanism” which looks into all aspects of the broadcasting sector.

“It should a mechanism which not only addresses concerns over what we see but also look at issues like the shortage of spectrum and the number of TV channels that should be allowed,” Soni explained.

This would be an independent agency, without government control, which would look at issues related to the ministry, she explained.

Soni backed the idea of a self-regulating mechanism by leading broadcasters and stakeholders, but stressed that it should be “effective.” Repudiating any impression of controlling the media through indirect means, Soni asserted: “The government of Manmohan Singh is against any kind of censorship or control.”

Alluding to 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks last year that saw some irresponsible reporting by some TV news channels allegedly impacting on national security, Soni said, “The enemy that attacked us could have probably benefited from it.”

Soni said the ministry has concerns, based on complaints from civil society, over at least 10-15 issues regarding television coverage like sting operations and media trials of sub-judice cases where a growing need for self-restraint was felt.

The minister, however, made it clear that the government will not do anything that will impose a regulator on the broadcasting media and emphasized interaction and dialogue among all stakeholders to evolve the broadest possible consensus on this sensitive issue.

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