The government has tightened the norms for television channel licences, increasing the net worth criteria for those wanting to start new channels, and warning existing ones that the renewal of their licences is conditional on their compliance with the programme and advertisement code.

The Cabinet has approved the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's proposal, which aims to “ensure that only serious and credible operators are permitted to operate such channels and the electronic media landscape is not unnecessarily crowded by non-serious players,” according to a statement. While India has 745 channels already – including 366 news and current affairs channels – there are more than 300 applications for new channels still pending with the Ministry.

Net worth criteria

The net worth criteria for uplinking of non-news and current affairs channels and downlinking of foreign channels has been increased from Rs. 1.5 crore to Rs. 5 crore for the first channel and Rs. 2.5 crore for each additional channel. In the case of news and current affairs channels, the increase is even steeper — from Rs. 3 crore to Rs. 20 crore for the first channel and Rs. 5 crore for each additional channel.

It's not just an issue of finances, but also personnel. The new norms stipulate that one of the top-level management executives in the applicant firm must have a minimum of three years of prior experience in a media company.

About broadcast content

The norms also indicate that the government is giving more teeth to its programme and advertisement code which mandates that the broadcast content should not be obscene or vulgar, offend any community or denigrate women and children, or be against the national interest.

The amended guidelines now state that “renewal of the permissions of TV channels will be considered for a period of ten years at a time, subject to the condition that the channel should not have been found guilty of violating the terms and conditions of permission including violations of the Programme and Advertisement Code on five occasions or more.”

It is not clear which channels, if any, are currently at risk of falling foul of this new clause. While dozens of warnings and advisories have been issued for violations of the code, the I&B Ministry has only issued an order penalising channels for violations about 30 times in the last five years.

No channel seems to have been at the receiving end of these orders on more than five occasions so far.