By Utpal Borpujari
As the new Information & Broadcasting Minister, Ambika Soni has her hands full. From the debate on whether the country needs a broadcast regulator to thinking of increasing the FDI component in print media, she is working on a range of subjects she has inherited from her predecessors. Soni talks to Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on what is on her mind:
You have been of the view that self-regulation would be the best way to go for the broadcast media. At the same time, the Broadcasting Bill is still pending. Can you describe the exact situation?
This government it totally committed to freedom of expression & speech and dissemination of information in whichever sector. But nevertheless, there is a Broadcasting Bill which has been around for over ten years. Probably India is the only country in the world which has no regulation, everybody else has. And people do think there is a need of a regulator because the explosive way the sector has grown and new technologies are coming in. I have had two sittings with the self-regulatory bodies, News Broadcasters Association, Indian Broadcasting Foundation and Advertising Standards Council of India. They have their own code of self regulation, but I have constituted a small group with the I&B Secretary as its head, to discuss the issues involved. It’s not about having a content code, but there has to be some kind of dos and don’ts. I personally feel that one should not resort to things like banning channels every now and then.
But the issue is how do you regulate all the channels in all over the county, because all of them are not members of bodies like NBA and IBF.
There are the downlinking and uplinking guidelines laws, and all channels adhere to the Cable Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Under that Act, one can be sent an advisory. In the last 3-5 years, 200-plus advisories have been sent out. This is where they will have to discuss the method of getting everybody to agree to certain basics. I suppose a list of dos and don’ts would have to be drawn up, but it is only my loud thinking, as I don’t want to pre-empt the discussion the Secretary is going to have with various groups.
Is there a move to increase FDI in print media?
There was a preparation for a Cabinet note on this as many from medium and even larger newspapers have been suggesting why not have 49 per cent FDI or 26 per cent FDI plus FIIs and all that, the cap being 49 per cent. But there are some media houses which are of not the same view. I personally feel it will be a good way to infuse capital, and it would create better facilities without interfering with the management control, and would give better transparency. I am going to try and make the effort to talk and find a way to increase the FDI. This is only what I can say, because there is no move from the Commerce Ministry to push it. I am going to talk to the Commerce Ministry and media houses.
The film censorship regulations were also up for an overhaul. When can the new regulations be expected?
I have not been able to speak with CBFC chairperson Sharmila Tagore because she has been abroad. I am going to talk to her, on how to make it more film friendly and user sensitive. I have found that our regional boards have large number of people on them. I will talk to her to find out what she has in mind. I have just got Nandita Das to agree to be the chairperson of the Children’s Film Society of India. Like this I would like people to get involved. I am forming an advisory council of 15-20 eminent people connected with this ministry – media people, film people – so that that can be our public face, giving dynamic inputs, out of the box suggestions on how this ministry should remain relevant.
Talking about oversized regional boards of CBFC, the allegation is that often the party in power packs its people into them.
There has to be a little more thought given to who all come into this body. It is a rotational thing, and there are more than 150 people. Sometimes there are complaints that films are not cleared over small technicalities and sometimes that they are cleared too liberally. So the people who are on the board must realise the responsibility that it’s not just an add-on or a perk, but a very conscious responsibility. We have to have some kind of data bank on who all are attending the meetings and what discussions take place.
What are your plans regarding the film sector?
India is the biggest film producing countries in the world and most countries want Indian film producers to make films in their countries, because they feel those will be great advertisement for their tourism industries. Outside, Cannes should not be the only festival where we promote our films. We should look at festivals like Berlin, Dubai and Shanghai. The industry has the major problem of piracy, and there is a thinking that maybe I should ask the Finance Ministry to make the blank DVDs more expensive to deter pirates. Another important thing is the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa. Goa is a great destination, I want IFFI to have a higher profile so that it is in the international calendar. I was told Indian film stars don’t want to come to the festival. If you are going to have a bureaucratic affair, nobody is going to come. While the ministry people do the work, the public face should be less governmental and more creative. The focus has to be on talent representing the whole country.