Communication Convergence Bill Remembered



Provision for live broadcasting of certain events.

31 (1) For the purpose of ensuring the widest availability of viewing in India of a national or international event of general public interest to be held in India, the Central Government shall notify the same well in advance.

(2)The National or International event of general public interest notified under sub-serction(1) shall have to be carried on the network of a public service broadcaster as well .

(3) In order to strive towards providing a level playing field for bidders for broadcasting rights, or persons interested in receiving broadcasting right for events, notified under sub-section (1), the Commission shall determine, well in advance of such event , the principles and terms for the access to the network of the public service broadcaster.

Clause 31 of Communication Convergence Bill 2001, now shelved

The ongoing controversy with Ten Sports channel on the broadcasting of Indo-Pak Cricket series has brought the attention back on the rights of the State in ensuring broadcasting of events of national and international events.

For any body watching the Indo-Pak political relations, it would be evident that the forthcoming Cricket series is much more than a mere sporting event. It is perhaps an attempt to bridge relationships between the two countries. But for this considerations, the tour would not have even survived upto this day when the Indian Cricket players have actually landed on the Pakistani soil despite the grave security risks they are facing.

Both the Indian and Pakistani Governments are putting their best foot forward to ensure that the series goes on successfully. It is incidental that the event also is also commercially attractive and the Pakistani Cricket Board will make money in the bargain. The Television channels will share some of this booty.

However, it would be ironic if this historic sporting event is made a prisoner of commercial interests as Ten Sports would like it to be. According to the reports, Ten Sports has refused to share the telecast rights with Doordarshan and also it is using the opportunity to arm twist Cable TV operators to pay six month fees in advance on an increased number of declared connections.

In this approach, the tendency to profiteer is very much in evidence. The move is likely to deny a large section of the Indian population especially in the villages miss an important Indo-Pak peace making  occasion. As of now there is no substitute to Doordarshan in terms of reaching out to the Indian rural population and blocking DD from broadcast of the event is equivalent to blocking 80 % of the population from the event.

In this context, one is reminded of the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation's experience during the last mini world cup cricket where it was prevented from running radio commentary of the event because of the overriding rights given out by ICC to a private firm.

The current trend of giving rights for Sporting events have reached such a stage that if a person sits in the stadium and speaks over his mobile phone about the match, it could amount to violation of the broadcasting rights. These are examples of implementation of IPR in gross indifference to what is "Public Good".

India was considering a comprehensive legislation for regulation of the convergent media through the Communication Convergence Bill 2001. Unfortunately, the political hurdles in merging of the Ministry of  Broadcasting with the Ministry of IT ultimately resulted in there being no political consensus on the Bill and it was ultimately shelved.

As a result of such shelving, the Cable TV regulation has hit a road block and the Ten Sports controversy has emerged. Had the Bill become an Act, Section 31 quoted above would have given clear rights to the Government of India to get the broadcast rights for events held in India.

It is understood that the Government is seriously considering an ordinance to be promulgated for the above purpose and even the Madras High Court hearing the case has queried the Government if this option is available. Such an ordinance will however have to be worded in such a manner that  events outside India is also covered as for as broadcast in India is concerned.

For this purpose the words "to be held " should be removed from the first paragraph which may then read

"(1) For the purpose of ensuring the widest availability of viewing in India of a national or international event of general public interest  in India, the Central Government shall notify the same well in advance. "

At present it appears that the Government has two options. The first being promulgation of an ordinance to the effect equivalent to the Section 31 of the shelved Communication Convergence Bill 2001 or to enter into an arrangement with Pakistan TV  to take the feed into the Doordarshan channel.

It is possible that due to the ongoing elections in India there could be some doubt if passing of an ordinance at this stage would violate EC norms and therefore require its permission. Considering the importance of the event EC should declare that it would not consider it an objection and facilitate the passing of the ordinance.

On the other hand if PTV and DD come together for a joint broadcast of the matches, it will be another path breaking Indo-Pak co operation that will have its own positive impact on the peace process. This may however depend on whether PTV has rights limited to broadcasting within Pakistan or whether it has the rights to accommodate broadcasting in India.

Either way, the happenings in the next few days are interesting to watch.


March 11, 2004

Copy of the Draft Communication Convergence Bill (Now Shelved)

ICC's high handedness Vindicates Convergence Act

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