Don’t Censor Me India, But Do Regulate the Broadcasters

Currently in Delhi, I spent this morning reading about the advent of printing in my little cousin’s Social Science textbook, India and the Contemporary World:

Not everyone welcomed the printed book, and those who did also had fears about it. Many were apprehensive of the effects that the easier access to the printed word and the wider circulation of books, could have on people’s minds. It was feared that if there was no control over what was printed and read then rebellious and irreligious thoughts might spread.

Strikingly similar was my afternoon reading around the web on media regulation in India. Here’s a little round-up of my readings on this week.

Censoring India’s Web

The fear of distribution, though now caused by the Internet, is still rampant. Like the SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA bills (and ensuing public outcry), India saw the 2011 IT Act and protests against it.

Just last month the Indian government asked the U.S. to ensure “India-specific objectionable content” are removed from Facebook, Google, and YouTube. The government also wants each to set up servers in India so content can be regulated locally.

See the annulment petition here. Tips on blogging in India here. And a Tumblr: Don’t Censor Me India.

Regulating Broadcasters for the sake of National Security

The afternoon I landed, this was on the news, well, floating by the bottom of the screen of a cricket match. Basically the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended a mandatory “carriage fee” (a fee broadcasters have to pay cable companies to carry their channel), and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) is protesting it.

The wide belief among broadcasters is that the carriage fee charged by cable companies were virtually a tool for extortion - that unless broadcasters shelled out crores, their channel would not feature in the bouquet of channels. NBA it was “distressed” and “disappointed” that Trai’s new order has actually legalized this extortionist fee and given distributors the freedom to unilaterally set the amount of fees broadcasters must pay.

Tied to this is the issue of regulation of broadcast news in the first place. Recently, Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan moved a privately proposed bill called “Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012,” which would have given the government power to fine, ban, or suspend coverage of any event that “may pose a threat to national security from foreign or internal sources,” as well as suspend a media organization’s operations for up to 11 months. Or cancel its license. Harsh, right? But that is, in many ways, the rationale behind the Internet censorship act too.

Regulating Broadcasters for the sake of Journalism

And amidst all this, an editorial came out today by Press Council of India (PCI) Chairman Markandey Katju, who very strongly argues that an independent body is needed to monitor Indian media, because self-regulation bodies (like the NBA) don’t work.

Media people often talk of self-regulation. But media houses are owned by businessmen who want profit. There is nothing wrong in making profits, but this must be coupled with social responsibilities…The way much of the media has been behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous. Yellow journalism, cheap sensationalism, highlighting frivolous issues (like lives of film stars and cricketers) and superstitions and damaging people and reputations, while neglecting or underplaying serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers’ suicides, health care, education, dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc., are hallmarks of much of the media today. Astrology, cricket (the opium of the Indian masses), babas befooling the public, etc., are a common sight on Television channels.

I am far from an authority on this (and much less a resident of India), but after a few days of flipping channels, it seems kind of true. At least the celebrity/cricket/baba stuff.

Katju suggests:

If the electronic media also comes under the Press Council (which can be renamed the Media Council), representatives of the electronic media will also be on this body, which will be totally democratic. Why then are the electronic media people so furiously and fiercely opposing my proposal?

It’s worth a read, as are the comments.

So, travel across the world and you still find the usual, never-ending debates on privacy vs. freedom of speech, which we’ve discussed quite often on here. If interested in following media things in India (including thoughts on the future of Indian journalism), read The Hoot. I’ll explore its archives tomorrow. —Jihii

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