The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Prasad kicks off with content control

New Delhi, Feb. 21: “Ravi, congratulations and all that. Now, will you please ensure a programme on television that I can watch with my wife and children'”

Ravi Shankar Prasad’s ministering of information and broadcasting begins at home and with friends.

In the weeks since he has taken over the portfolio, the minister has appealed to broadcasters to regulate television content. “I am not a moral policeman,” he said, setting the record straight. His concern is about the quality of content.

“I get simple requests (like the one quoted above from one of his friends) on this everyday.”

In Delhi, on the first day of taking over, the minister said he was concerned that television news channels were going overboard in some of their coverage.

In Patna, the capital of his home state, he said that if television news identified victims and perpetrators of riots, it could lead to law and order disturbances.

Back in Delhi earlier this week, he said television news coverage of the militant attack on Akshardham was fraught with consequences that he was afraid to think of.

In between, at a meeting in Ficci with representatives of the media industry, Prasad spoke again on the need for content regulation.

The repeated harping on the point led many broadcasters to mutter under their breath that they may have to contend with a content cop.

The minister insists that his appeals are for self-regulation by the media industry.

“The print media, for instance, does not identify the communities in a riot. What is there to gain by covering a riot live' Riot is news. Riot is also a social curse.”

Asked about the code suggested by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, Prasad said: “A code is welcome. The question is of compliance.”

Among the most sensitive of issues that are being addressed by most new laws and rules impacting the media industry is content regulation.

The Conditional Access System (CAS) that is to be implemented in metros from July 14 — Prasad said he was committed to the programme — will also regulate content even if that is not its express purpose.

The Convergence Bill that is under consideration also proposes to regulate content as does the proposal for a Broadcast Regulatory Authority or Broadcasting Council.

Content regulation touches upon not only news and current affairs programming but also such issues as taste and decency in advertising and commercial shows.

Asked if he was considering steps on banned — such as for cigarettes and tobacco — advertising on television, Prasad said he will look into it. “As of now, there is a programming and advertising code.”

The minister has decided to measure his words and be discreet.

“From the deep cavity of coal mines I have taken the road of law to ride the airwaves,” he said, punning on his previous assignments as minister of state for coal and mines and then for legal affairs before being given independent charge of information and broadcasting.

“I am aware that I am in a high-profile ministry.”

Prasad said he was aware of deadlines — on the implementation of the access system (July 14) as well as on the uplinking issue.

Although he did not specify it, the reference was to STAR News’ application for direct uplink facilities. STAR News’ contract for content provision with NDTV expires on March 31.

The committee to implement the access system is at the moment working out the basic tier of free-to-air channels.

Doordarshan, being a terrestrial public broadcaster, is outside the ambit of the access system, Prasad said, which will be restricted only to cable and satellite channels.

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