Government not playing big brother by digitising broadcasting: Tewari

New Delhi, April 5 (IANS) Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said Friday that the government had no intention of playing “big brother” by getting access to real time data on the television choices of people through the cable TV digitization process and was willing to hand it over to a broadcasters body.

Delivering the keynote address at the opening session of the first meeting of the Expert Committee on Prasar Bharati, Tewari said seven crore Indian homes are getting the benefit of rapid digitization of the cable television and the direct to home network.

“This will give real time data of who is watching what programme,” he said but denied that the government is playing big brother with all the data.

“The government is prepared through a statutory process to hand it over to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) or any body set up so that you have an empirical model to measure how your industry is playing itself,” said the minister.

He also touched on the complaints of some broadcasters on the time limit for advertisements.

“Broadcasters say not to enforce the 12-minute ad limit. I am in a quandary as those are licencing issues that they have voluntarily inked. It is part of the cable television act which they have agreed to abide by,” said Tewari, adding that he empathized with the broadcasters.

Tewari said there “no revenue model in the broadcasting industry” and certain regional channels sell a 10 second spot for as low as Rs.500.

He said digitization was an “attempt to try and clean up the broadcasting space to see that revenues start kicking in”.

He said in order to have a more robust system, there was need to constitute BARC.

Tewari also promised that the report of the expert committee would not be “consigned to the darkest closet of the ministry of information and broadcasting”.

While emphasising that he was “not making any policy pronouncements”, the minister said he wondered “whether or not you require a Prasar Bharti and whether you require a minister of information and broadcasting this is a fundamental question that needs to be answered”.

He said if India needs a public broadcaster then what should be its characteristics.

“Do we require 33 channels, do we require a public broadcaster that does soap operas etc or do we require one that can try and find the golden meanOr do we require that in areas that require special focus like Kashmir and the northeast states, the public broadcaster has a role to play,” he added.

Tewari said that in the last 20 years, there are 833 odd television channels in the country, and 405 news channels, which underlines “the plurality of the market or its fragmentation”.

He said of his ministry’s budget of Rs.2,800 crores, two-thirds or Rs.1,885 crores goes to Prasar Bharti.

“I am to recruit people, discipline them, and sanctions their tours, and yet I am to keep arms-length relations with it This needs to be fixed and if the country requires a Prasar Bharti, let it be accountable to parliament as mandated in the Prasar Bharti Act and allow me the liberty as government to have a full spectrum agency that goes across print, online broadcasting, so that I can put my view across,” Tewari said.

He said since the government spends billions of rupees in development works, it needs to inform people about it.

He stressed that the government has no intention of putting a regulator on content in the statutory space.

“Maybe the time has come to look at the techno commercial side of broadcasting and the need for a separate broadcaster,” he said, and added that these were not policy pronouncements but his thoughts.

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