By Vijay GarG
Looms like we are back to the days of the yore. Indian television has come a long way, from the sole national broadcaster Doordarshan ruling the roost for decades and then paving the way for the 24/7 private satellite television to take centerstage. Now, the Union Cabinet has approved the amended policy guidelines for satellite TV news channels Wednesday. This is the first time that changes have been made to the rules since 2011. In a throwback to good old Doordarshan prime time days, from now on, news channels in the country will be obligated to broadcast at least 30 minutes of content daily on themes of “national importance and social relevance”, for creation of content like women’s empowerment, agriculture, and cultural heritage. The rationale behind the move, according to the government, is that airwaves are public property and need to be used in the best interest of society.
This is one of several new policies listed in the amended ‘Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Satellite Television Channels in India’, approved by the Union Cabinet. While the guidelines are effective from November 9, officials of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting said channels will be given time to conceptualise and create such content. “As airwaves/ frequencies are public property and need to be used in the best interest of the society, a company/LLP having permission under these guidelines for uplinking a channel and its downlinking in India (other than foreign channels only downlinked in India) may undertake public service broadcasting for a minimum period of 30 minutes in a day on themes of national importance and of social relevance, including education and spread of literacy; agriculture and rural development; health and family welfare; science and technology; welfare of women; welfare of the weaker sections of the society; protection of environment and of cultural heritage; and national integration,” stated the policy guidelines document. The channels are free to create their own content on the themes mentioned in the guidelines. The condition applies to all channels, except those mentioned specifically as exempt and a detailed advisory in this regard will be issued soon. Reports said exemption may also apply to wildlife channels and foreign channels, besides live telecast in case of sports channels. The government will, from time to time, issue general advisory to the channels for telecast of content in national interest, and the channel shall comply with the same, the guidelines say.
In addition to the “mandatory” half an hour of national interest stories, the new guidelines seek to make compliance and doing business easier for TV channels. This includes measures like doing away with the requirement to seek prior permission before live coverage of a non-news event, with only a basic registration being required instead. Further, a news agency can get permission to operate for five years rather than just one, as is the case at present.
It remains to be seen how the TV channels will take the new guidelines on “national importance and social relevance” in their strides. Although such content is the need of the hour, given the trash that is shown through serials and reality shows, especially by private channels, how such content and presented to the audience that is now spoiled for choice will be interesting.
Vijay GarG Retired Principal Educational Columnist Malout Punjab