The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has proposed yet another Bill in a long series of failed legislative attempts since 1995. The story begins with the Supreme Court delivering its judgment in Ministry of I&B v Cricket Association of Bengal in 1995, where it said that airwaves were public property, to be utilized for promoting diversity of opinions and securing the citizen’s freedom of speech – there can be no monopoly on airwaves, governmental or private. The Broadcast Bill of 1997 and the Communications Convergence Bill of 2001 lapsed with the dissolution of the respective Lok Sabhas.
The latest attempt is the Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2007. The Bill envisages the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) and a Public Service Broadcasting Council. It has three purported goals:
1. Competition provisions which will prevent monopolies in the broadcast media (section 12)
2. Public service requirements imposed on all broadcasters (section 13)
3. Putting in place a pre-censorship mechanism in place through a Content Code (s. 4).
While the first two objectives are laudable (though their efficacy remains to be examined), the final point is of concern. Similar provisions in the previous Bills became their sticking points as well. The power to frame and notify the Content Code is delegated to the government. It has also been vested with some draconian emergency powers (sections 5 & 6).
Another issue of concern is the scope of the Bill – while the Convergence Bill clearly covered internet and mobile broadcasting, there is some ambiguity in the definitions in this Bill (section 2 (d), (e) & (f)). Given that it requires all broadcasters to obtain prior license, one wonders whether this will apply to everyone who posts on You Tube. A cursory reading of section 3 which, inter alia, prohibits any person from broadcasting any program seems to suggest that it would. Clarity on this front would be useful.
The Bill, in seeking to control a very powerful sector of the media, is obviously very important. Any comments would be enlightening.