TRAI Recommends Public Service Broadcasting obligations on private broadcasters

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Wednesday issued its recommendations on Broadcasting .The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on December 27, 2007 had requested TRAI to examine the matter of allowing certain entities including State Governments, urban and local bodies, 3-tier Panchayati Raj bodies, publicly funded bodies, political bodies and religious bodies to enter into Broadcasting activities which may include starting of broadcast channels or entering into distribution platforms such as cable services, DTH etc.

TRAI had released a Consultation Paper on the 25th February, 2008 on the issues arising out of the reference. The Consultation Paper covered issues as to whether it would be in the interest of the broadcasting sector and in the interest of the public at large to permit the Union Government and its organs, the State Governments and their organs, urban and rural local bodies, political bodies, religious bodies etc. to enter into broadcasting activities and distribution activities like cable TV, DTH, etc. The consultation paper also raised the issue whether permitting the State Governments and their enterprises to enter into broadcasting sector would have impact on the Centre-State Relationship and the inter-se relationship among the States, etc. This was followed by an Open House Discussion (OHD) held in New Delhi on the 16th April, 2008. The Authority has, after carefully examining several Constitutional and legal issues arising out of the reference and after carefully considering the views of stake-holders and the prevailing international practices, arrived at these final recommendations.

TRAI in its recommendations have have not permitted local bodies , state governments and political outfits to enter into broadcasting activities. After considering the relevant Constitutional provisions, the Constituent Assembly debates, the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission and the judgments of Hon’ble Supreme Court, and feedback received from the stakeholders, the Authority has recommended that the present position as regards the entry of these entities may be allowed to continue. TRAI has recommended that the aspirations of the State Governments, as regards broadcasting, should be adequately met by Prasar Bharati and by imposing certain public service broadcasting obligations on private broadcasters as indicated below.

TRAI has recommended that certain public service broadcasting obligations be imposed on the broadcasters in the country. The preparation of content for public service broadcasting may be done by individuals including private broadcasters, NGOs, social action groups, etc., in addition to Prasar Bharati, DAVP, State Governments and their organs. The Government of India (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) may set up a regular body to approve and certify programmes as being fit for broadcast as part of the public service broadcasting (PSB) obligation. As a beginning in this direction, every private broadcaster may be mandated to carry such approved programmes at least for a total duration of thirty minutes in a week.

In order to provide funds for such public service broadcasting programmes, TRAI has further recommended to establish a Fund, to be known as the Public Service Broadcasting Obligation Fund, on lines similar to the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund in the telecom sector, and imposing an annual Public Service Broadcasting Obligation levy on the private broadcasters in the country and a predetermined share from the percentage of gross revenue being paid by the identified stakeholders in the broadcasting sector.

The entry of political parties into broadcasting activities, TRAI has recommended that political bodies should not be allowed to enter into broadcasting activities and has accordingly recommended that the disqualifications as contained in the relevant provisions of the Broadcasting Bill, 1997 (which could not be enacted into law) as regards political bodies be incorporated in the proposed legislation on broadcasting. However, having regard to the importance of the free flow of information to the public during the electoral process, the Authority has recommended that broadcasting channels provide “reasonable access” to recognized political parties during the run up to elections to Parliament and to the State Legislative Assemblies. The Government of India (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) may seek the guidance of the Hon’ble Election Commission of India and may frame appropriate guidelines in this regard.

As regards entry of religious bodies into broadcasting activities, TRAI has recommended that religious bodies may not be permitted to own their own broadcasting stations and teleports. This would be in conformity with the secular fabric of the Constitution. TRAI has, accordingly, recommended that the disqualifications as contained in the relevant provisions of the Broadcasting Bill, 1997 as regards disqualification of religious bodies may be incorporated in the proposed new legislation on broadcasting. However, such disqualification should not be construed to mean that religious contents in the broadcasting channels is to be disallowed. Such religious content should be in conformity with the appropriate content code or programme code as prescribed from time to time by the Government. In case permission has earlier been granted to such a religious body for a television channel, then the recommendations provide for an appropriate exit route within a time limit of three to four years to such religious bodies.

The entry of State Governments into the distribution platform such as cable TV, DTH, etc., the Authority has noted that there are already 6 DTH operators, about 6000 multisystem operators and nearly 60,000 cable operators. Such being the case, and in the interest of fair competition, level playing field, and also considering the need to ensure proper enforcement mechanism equally applicable to all the players in the field, TRAI has recommended that the State Governments and their organs should stay away from distribution activities. Suitable provisions for exit route within three to four years have been provided wherever state governments and their organs have entered such distribution activity. For similar reasons and the need to prevent misuse of distribution platforms by any of the players on political or other considerations and also the need to prevent any problems relating to enforcement measures against the service providers involved, TRAI has recommended that urban and local bodies, political bodies, religious bodies and other publicly funded bodies may not be permitted into distribution activities like cable television, DTH, etc.

TRAI considers that the present recommendations, being made to the Government on the occasion of the National Public Service Broadcasting Day, marking the 61st Anniversary of the visit of the Father of the Nation to the studios of All India Radio on the 12th November, 1947 have appropriately reflected the emphasis which the Mahatma placed on the service and educational aspects of media, the two important pillars of public service broadcasting. TRAI hopes that these recommendations will ensure that the broadcasting medium is used for advancing the larger public interest and for greater realization of the common man’s right to be informed fully and fairly on all matters touching upon his life.

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