Seminar on Convergence Bill
A Brief Report

A seminar on Communication Convergence Bill was organized today at Chennai by the recently formed New Media Forum.   

Fittingly, the seminar was inaugurated by the Union Minister for Telecommunications through a specially recorded Video message.

After an initial introduction from Mr R.Rangaraj, the President of the forum, Mr N. Ram of Hindu group presented the Key note address. This was followed by the first Technical session with a presentation by Naavi on the "Overview of the Bill". Mr N. Parameshwaran, senior GM of VSNL and Mr S.Babu, CEO, AVM Telecom then followed in a Panel discussion on the " Objectives and Scope of the Bill".

In the second technical session, Mr Maalan of Sun TV headed the panel consisting of himself and Mr P.S.Sundaram, C E O of Intelli Vision.

In the third technical session, Mr B.S. Raghavan, a veteran in the telecom field, and Mr P.S.Surana, advocate presented their views on the "Regulatory Framework and its impact on the Society". Mr Surana handed over a draft of changes proposed by him to the forum.

This was followed by a valedictory address by Mr Sashi Kumar Menon, Chairman, Asian Media Institute.

Mr G.Shankaranarayan proposed the vote of thanks.

The sessions were interspersed with lively discussions on the various provisions of the Bill. The programme ended with a late lunch.

Some of the main points made during the seminar are summarised below:

1. The members of the broadcast media were of the opinion that the Communication Convergence Bill was an attempt to bring in controls and regulations to censor the operations of the private sector broadcast media.

2. It was pointed out that the Bill deliberately avoided including the Print Media for regulation. It also left out the Public sector TV/AIR media. In effect therefore, it is exercising control only on the private sector broadcasting media. This selective regulation came in for a strong criticism from one section of experts.

3. The provisions regarding the proposed programme and advertising code also came in for debate. While one section of the gathering felt that the Government cannot try to impose "Cultural Policing" through the regulations, another section felt that "Reasonable Regulation" was necessary for the society.

4. The Composition of the proposed Communication Convergence Commission and the lack of representation of the industry in it were hotly criticized. It ws felt that the earlier draft of the Nariman Committee in this regard was superior and the present provision makes for all the powers to be held with the Government only.

5. The Spectrum committee composition was also criticized since it was felt that the responsibility for "Spectrum Management" should be given to a 'Telecom Professional of impeccable international reputation" and not left to the "Cabinet Secretary".

6. The powers of "Interception" was another area which did not go down with a section of the gathering who represented "Libertarians". However a section of the gathering felt that the country cannot do without such provisions to manage its security requirements.

7. It was also pointed out that the Bill does not have proper provisions for implementations. It was suggested that there should be clarity on time limits for various provisions such as "Appointment", "Appeal" etc.

8. The need to define the terms such as "officer", etc was spelt out.

9. The provision that only Chartered Accountant and Cost Accountants can represent the appellants in the tribunal was also held as discriminatory and a point on which the Bill could be questioned in a court of law.

10. The enormous powers that the Bill bestows on the adjudicating officer for levying penalties for various offenses and the risk of corruption was also highlighted. Many felt that the Bill was "Draconian".

11.A section of the participants felt that the Bill in its present form is too badly drafted to deserve passage and has to be reviewed in entirety. Some felt that there is a need to have checks and balances during implementation so that the apprehensions can be adequately addressed.

12. it was agreed that a summary of the observations would be prepared by the forum and sent across to the Ministry shortly.

February 25, 2001

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