YES, NO, IT’S COMPLICATED

Should we do away with the I&B Ministry?

 

Yes | Jaipal Reddy

 

Should we do away with the I&B Ministry?
 

No advanced democracy has an I&B Ministry. They instead have independent commissions

 

 

While it is universally known that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel briefly handled the Home Ministry after India attained Independence, it is a little-known fact that he also handled the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry. He used the I&B portfolio to reach out to the people with urgent messages during the country’s formative and most difficult period. That time was marked by post-Partition riots, the difficulty of settling millions of migrants from Pakistan, the problem of integrating more than 500 princely states and so on. It was also a time when literacy was very low and the circulation of newspapers even lower. Under those circumstances, All India Radio (AIR) was the only institution which could pass on the government’s momentous messages to both officials and the people. After the Constitution was adopted, AIR rendered a huge service to India’s culture not only by collecting all the available information on classical music in the country but also by getting both Carnatic and Hindustani music recorded by ace maestros. It also propagated new agricultural methods to reach out to the farmers directly, and played a crucial role in bringing about the Green Revolution.

Conferring autonomy

Even while broadcasting services were put to such irreplaceable use, the founders of our Republic were acutely alive to the importance of promoting the autonomy of our democratic institutions. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking in the Constituent Assembly in 1948, said that our final goal should be to endow AIR with the same autonomy and strength as what is given to the BBC. The political demand for conferring autonomy gained volume only in the 1970s, because of which the B.G. Verghese Committee went into the question and submitted its recommendations. But it assumed the shape of a specific statute only in 1990 when leaders from all parties, including Rajiv Gandhi as the Opposition leader, reached a consensus. It fell on me as the I&B Minister in 1997 to notify the Act — the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990. At that time, I made a public statement that the time had come for abolishing the I&B Ministry.

It is important to note that no advanced democracy, be it in Western Europe or in North America, has a Ministry called I&B. Those democracies instead have independent commissions. In the U.S., for example, the Federal Communications Commission has been effective in regulating the functions of television companies for more than a half a century. Some could turn around and tell me that Prasar Bharati already enjoys statutory autonomy. While I see the sense of humour in this riposte, I would like to say that any institution, particularly Prasar Bharati, cannot enjoy true autonomy without financial independence. The BBC enjoys financial autonomy as the citizens pay fees compulsorily and directly to it. As a consequence of this freedom, the BBC sometimes takes on the British Prime Minister as well, not to speak of the government.

Abolish the portfolio

There are some friends who say that the demand for autonomy was relevant a few decades ago when private channels were neither available nor as effective as they are today. Public broadcasting services are autonomous in every democracy, though private channels are as prevalent as they are in our country. If a Minister is there for the portfolio, he/she cannot sit idle; they poke their nose into the functioning of such institutions by way of self-employment. Hence, the urgency to abolish this portfolio.

Jaipal Reddy is a former I&B Minister

No | Bimal Julka

 

Should we do away with the I&B Ministry?
 

The government must shape public perceptions through the Ministry to reflect reality

 

The I&B Ministry is an apex body of the government to formulate and administer the rules, regulations and laws relating to information, broadcasting policy, and administration as enshrined in the transaction of business rules. There has been a tremendous growth in private media in all forms including television, FM radio, Web portals, and print and social media. With such a proliferation of private players in the media, the government, through the I&B Ministry with its vast information and broadcasting infrastructure, should ensure the optimal utilisation of this world and engagement with all the stakeholders.

Shaping public perception

The government’s role in making information available to the people in inaccessible areas continues to remain paramount. We are all aware that social media has become an integral part of our life. Our lives have been impacted with 24x7 news channels, an expanded citizen consciousness and a digital revolution. Not only does news break and spread on social media, but wars on social media shape the action on TV screens, newspaper pages, dinner tables, streets, and thus the minds and hearts of citizens. The protests in the wake of any gang rape are examples of how social media shapes action. Therefore, the challenges posed by social media to the government are huge, and so are the opportunities. Public perception, public order and national security are closely interlinked. The government needs to shape public perceptions so that they reflect the reality and amplify the effectiveness of governance.

At present, there are many issues engaging the Ministry, such as the outreach of AIR and Doordarshan; planning manpower; budgetary requirements; issues relating to the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill of 2011; cross-media ownership/cross-media monopoly in various segments; the role of the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity and its spread amongst small, medium, and regional language newspapers; ensuring that the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune becomes a centre of excellence in filming; expanding the FM radio network; the spread of community radio services; policy for introduction of mobile television; rationalisation of spectrum requirements for various broadcasting services; conversion of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication into an international media university; coordination issues with cable and satellite channels; liaising with the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, and the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council to integrate issues in TV programming and time bands.

Evolving a media strategy

In a country like India, the media needs to be more responsible and self-regulated considering the sensitivities involved. The lessons learnt from 26/11, the interviews by various individuals in the aftermath of the hanging of Yakub Memon and other issues relating to portrayal of crime against women and children cannot be silently ignored.

Given the multitude of issues engaging the public’s attention, and to develop a holistic and integrated approach, this is a great opportunity for the I&B Ministry to prepare, plan and evolve a media strategy which can be skilfully executed in a proactive manner through various media platforms. There is a vast pool of talent in the Ministry to execute and effectively implement the objectives of the Ministry.

Views expressed are personal

Bimal Julka was Secretary in the I&B Ministry and is currently Central Information Commissioner

IT’S COMPLICATED | Manish Tewari

 

Should we do away with the I&B Ministry?
 

The question is not whether the Ministry should be junked, but how it should be reformed

 

Even as I&B Minister, I had said repeatedly that the Ministry, as it stands currently, has outlived its utility even to efficaciously service the needs of the Union government. The question therefore is not whether it should be junked but how to reform it.

What is the Ministry’s mandate? It administers the print industry, the private broadcast industry, films, and Prasar Bharati. It also oversees numerous allegedly autonomous institutions ranging from film institutes to the Registrar of Newspapers for India. It is the principal media outreach mechanism of the government of the day. It discharges that responsibility through the Press Information Bureau.

Bohemians and control freaks

Bohemians believe that the entire media space should be liberated from the tyranny of the government. They believe that everyone should be free to start any print, broadcast or digital media vehicle. If there are aberrations, the set of reasonable restrictions enunciated in the proviso to Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the laws made pursuant to it are more than enough to deal with any contingency. Reasonable restrictions include the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. On the other hand, control freaks stress that every element of the media space should be tightly regulated.

The solution lies in between — in reforming different aspects of the Ministry, thereby transforming it completely over a period of time. To achieve this, some of the issues that require rigorous discussion include whether an autonomous and overarching media regulator, administering both techno-economic issues and content, can take care of the myriad functions currently performed by the Ministry — a colossus Media Regulatory Authority of India. Try suggesting this to industry stakeholders and they would react as if stung by a swarm of bees.

What about the cinema sector that is currently administered by the Ministry through the Central Board of Film Certification, the portentous Censor Board underpinned by the Cinematographic Act of 1952? What should be done about the Registrar of Newspapers for India that regulates the newspaper industry and controls the Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867? What about the current endeavours to regulate the digital media space?

Incremental reform

Reform has to be incremental. Carve out pieces of the Ministry, reform and liberate them one by one. The film remit is a low-hanging fruit. The Cinematographic Act can easily be repealed and the Censor Board abolished and replaced with a Programme and Advertising Code as it is for the television industry. Similarly, the private television industry and radio would need two sets of regulators — a Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India to perform licensing and other techno-commercial functions but with very restricted penal powers, and a self-regulatory framework embedded in statutory regulation to monitor content, much like other professional bodies that have the powers of peer review. The current self-regulatory frameworks are a bit of a prank, for the lack of a better word. If Prasar Bharati has to truly become a public broadcaster, it has to be liberated from the apron strings of the I&B Ministry. There can be no autonomy if its funding continues to be routed through the Ministry, and the Minister remains accountable to Parliament for both its omissions and commissions. Similarly, can the film institutes be turned into establishments of excellence bolstered by autonomous governing structures? Hard questions that defy easy answers.

Manish Tewari is a former I&B Minister

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 4:44:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/should-we-do-away-with-the-ib-ministry/article23918177.ece

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