Govt mulling to refer surrogate ownership issue to TRAI: Tewari
New Delhi: Concerned over cases of "surrogate ownership" of broadcasting and distribution platforms by some political parties, government is planning to refer the matter to TRAI for its suggestions to carry out changes in the laws.
"I don't think it requires any rocket science to figure out that there is surrogate ownership of both broadcasting mediums, as well as distribution mediums across the length and breadth of this country," Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has in its latest recommendations suggested that political entities should not be allowed to run television channels.
The present rules, however, do allow players like Gujarat BJP's cable channel NaMo Tv and other politically affiliated individuals to be active in this sector.
"Some of that surrogate ownership is ostensibly attributed to political parties or political entities.
Some other is attributed to individuals. So there is definitely a play in the joints in so far as the legislative architecture or the law is concerned, and people have taken advantage of it," he said, while stressing for a need to update the laws governing this sector.
"As we speak, we are in the process of formulating a reference to the TRAI to see how comprehensively, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1994 needs to be updated so that all this can be brought on board," he said.
The minister was responding to a query on government's stand regarding presence of political parties in the broadcasting sector.
Tewari also stressed on the need to relook the kind of relationship that should exist between the government and the public broadcaster in a "changed scenario", saying an "arm's length distance" between the two was not possible if the national broadcaster's funding was routed through the ministry.
"Prasar Bharati takes away two thirds of my budget. I am supposed to recruit for them. I am supposed to discipline them, but yet I am supposed have nothing to do with them. Now it is an oxymoron, which in real life does not work," Tewari said.
"If there is a need for an arm's length relationship, how is that arm's length relationship to be ensured. These are questions which seriously need to be gone into. Because there cannot be, I am sorry to put it so bluntly, an arm's length relationship, if the appropriation of the Prasar Bharati goes through I&B Ministry," he said.
He said that in 1990, when the Prasar Bharati was created, there was only one channel while there are 852 channels at present.
"So if Parliament, and I think this is something to which all of us should seriously apply ourselves to, if there is a feeling that this country requires a Public Broadcaster, then what should be the role of the public broadcaster in a changed scenario?" he asked.
Another issue that needed to be settled was whether government could use television as an educational medium. He said that the HRD Ministry had worked on an ambitious proposal of starting scores of such channels.
The TRAI has in its latest recommendations emphasised that no government entity should be allowed to enter broadcasting.
Tewari said that these TRAI recommendations were being studied by an inter-ministerial group. This group would make recommendations which would be taken to the empowered Group of Ministers (GoM), he said.
"Because at some point in time there has to be closure to these issues and that's what we are attempting to do. That once the TRAI has recommended, government takes a conclusive view one way or the other," Tewari said.