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Parliamentary Panel Tells Centre to Expedite Passage of Controversial Broadcasting Services Bill

The parliamentary standing committee on communication and information technology said it would like to 'engage in constructive discussions regarding the proposed draft legislation at a more mature stage of its formulation'.
Illustration: The Wire

New Delhi: The parliamentary standing committee on communication and information technology will engage in “constructive discussions” with the Union information and broadcasting ministry on the proposed Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023.

The committee, headed by Shiv Sena MP Prataprao Jadhav, released a report titled ‘Regulation of Cable Television in India’, which sought to know when the ministry is likely to introduce the Bill in the parliament. While suggesting the ministry to introduce the Bill at the earliest, the panel said the Bill would go a long way in addressing the issues being faced by the cable television industry.

“The committee would further like to engage in constructive discussions regarding the proposed draft legislation at a more mature stage of its formulation,” the report said.

The Bill seeks to replace the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995, by bringing TV, OTT, radio, cable, DTH, IPTV, and HITS under a common regulatory framework. Between November 10, 2023 and January 15 this year, the ministry carried out a public consultation seeking comments on the draft Bill.

Several media bodies expressed consternation over the upcoming law. Journalist bodies – The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ), the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), and the Andhra Pradesh Working Journalists Federation (APWJF) join the Network of Women in Media India, (NWMI) and the Editors Guild of India and others – have expressed “grave reservations” against the proposed law. They describe it as a “gateway to censorship”.

In a joint statement the NAJ, DUJ, and APWJF say that this proposed Bill is a step further “to expanding a new era of undeclared censorship” and increasing government control over all types of media from TV channels, to films, and platforms like Netflix and Prime Video, YouTube, radio, even Instagram and other social media platforms as well as news websites and journalists.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) had written to Union information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur calling the draft of the Bill “vague and excessively intrusive”. The EGI, whose mandate is to “protect freedom of speech and to raise standards of editorial leadership” of news media outlets, had told the minister that the new Bill will prove “adverse to the spirit of freedom of speech and freedom of the press guaranteed by the constitution”.

The Wire had reported earlier that “as a charter for censorship, the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 (Broadcast Bill) drafted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) is a remarkable instrument… this is an omnibus set of rules aimed at shutting down any news or views even mildly not in the service of those who happen to be in government”.

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