Forced transmission-New guidelines for satellite channels leave wide scope for interpretation

Source: The post is based on the article “Forced transmission-New guidelines for satellite channels leave wide scope for interpretation” published in the Business Standard on 15th November 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Relevance: About the concerns associated with mandatorily broadcasting content.

News: Recently, the Union Cabinet has approved the “Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Television Channels in India, 2022”. Under this, the channels would have to mandatorily broadcast content on themes of national importance and socially relevant issues for at least 30 minutes every day.

What are the key provisions of the guidelines?
Read here: Centre devises new guidelines for TV channels; broadcast of socially relevant topics compulsory
What are the concerns associated with mandatorily broadcasting content?

The issue with the notion of “public property”: The government considers that airwave resources are theoretically owned by the people of India. But, access to them does not come for free.

Broadcasters pay a licence fee (plus a processing fee for live events). Hence, this transfers ownership for the duration of the contract and confers some degree of independence on the broadcaster.

Government has a better alternative: Private broadcasters might not be willing to sacrifice half an hour’s revenue every day to cover “themes of national importance” when the government has a large broadcaster (Doordarshan) at its disposal to do just this.

Doordarshan has both terrestrial and satellite feeds, plus regional channels that cover pretty much the whole population of India. So, Doordarshan has a far better reach than any private satellite channel.

Challenge in monitoring: The government has said it will monitor channels to ensure they are broadcasting content on themes of national importance. At present, India has around 800-odd channels. So, government monitoring might result in a certain degree of cherry-picking.

Guidelines open for interpretation: These guidelines are opaque and open for interpretation since “national importance and social relevance” and “national interest” can easily lie in the eyes of the beholder.

Further, the guidelines add that “channels shall comply” with these recommendations. Such assertions are unlikely to ease operational conditions.

Read more: Content slot: On guidelines for television channels
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