Destroying Consent

The creeping nostalgia of “Chitrahaar”, will not change my opinion against the State participating in Broadcasting and Distribution Activities. The TRAI has recently mooted the idea of permitting State instrumentalities (the union government and its organs, State Governments and their organs, urban and local bodies, political bodies) in Broadcasting and Distribution Activities. Stakeholder’s comments received on the consultation paper provide enough reason not to grant any such permission. Any entry by the State in these sectors will be a retrograde step, contrary to the climate of liberalisation and the policy of the State divesting from sectors, save essential social services.

A Stab at the Fourth Estate

In the Indian political set up the Press plays an important role in informing, investigating and exposing government malice. This independence is severally compromised the moment state instrumentalities are allowed to enter into broadcasting services. Moreover, with the increase in number of channels media plurality will be compromised with more players (essential more state players) populating the field.

Inefficiency Tax

Broadcasting services have a short technology replacement cycle. With multiple state instrumentalities involved in broadcasting activities, the public exchequer will be drained. State Instrumentalities will undoubtedly work with a non-profit welfare motive. Hence it will be extremely difficult for them to recover the investments made. Moreover, government funding will give them an unfair advantage over private players and a system of sustained inefficiency will creep into the system. Citizens will, in effect be paying an inefficiency tax for state broadcasting services.

Political Nepotism

The system of licensing presently mandates an approval from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for commencing operations for a television channel in India. With different political parties at power in the center, state and municipalities, impartiality in awarding such licenses is doubtful. Cadres of a political party which is in power may even seize distribution networks of a rival political party or a private player.

Suggestions

(A) Equal Opportunity — Give all political parties equal opportunity on existing state channels for airing candidate debates and their agendas prior to an election. The United States model made by the FCC may be adopted.

(B) Ownership Scrutiny — Broadcasting channels of Political Parties already exist in a surrogate manner. Here my concern is not directed at there leaning towards a political party but the reason for it. If the reason is ownership, then the MIB should surely refuse permission to such a channel. It should come out with norms to scrutinize the ownership of television channels.

© Reform of Prasar Bharti — The Prasar Bharti Corporation though autonomous in principle is subordinate to the wishes of the government of the day. Prasar Bharti with its 2 national channels and 18 state channels already serves the needs which are highlighted in the consultation paper. What is required is more independence being given to the Corporation and making it free from any government influence.

(D) Delink the present issue from Religious Channels — There is a need to delink the present issue from the issue of Religious Channels. I believe Religious Channels merit a separate consultation process.
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Noam Chomsky (and I cite him for tactical reasons, since often communists count him within their flock) illustrated a propaganda model in his 1994 book, “manufacturing consent”, in which media elites and the state, partner in creating misinformation amongst the masses. He also quotes Walter Lippmann in his book as stating that propaganda has become, “a regular organ in popular government”.

It is quite evident that if the state is allowed in broadcasting services then there will be no need to test Chomsky’s hypothesis, since media elites will be useless to the State to feed propaganda to us.

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