INFORMATION & Broadcasting Minister C.M. Ibrahim has no patience for foreign broadcasters. The Nitish Sengupta Committee, appointed by the ministry last December to recommend amendments to the Prasar Bharati Act of 1990, is, however, all for the skies being opened to all satellite TV channel operators, domestic and foreign. The genesis of another filibustering tug-of-war?
The divergence of views on a basic question, media observers fear, can only slow down the implementation of the Sengupta Committee's recommendations. Ibrahim has announced that the report will be circulated among all political parties and an exhaustive broadcasting bill introduced in Parliament this winter. The question is: will the difference in perception be resolved in time?
The Sengupta Committee report says: "We recommend that the Government should consider granting licences to satellite chan-nel operators, domestic and foreign, with uplinking facilities from the Indian soil." The panel recommends that India should follow the example of Singapore, Sri Lanka and Philippines, among other countries, and provide uplink facilities because "the major spin-off from this policy will be generation of substantial revenue". Besides, it would create employment opportunities and give the Indian government regulatory control to "ensure that private operators fall in line with the Prasar Bharati Act". Taken with the Supreme Court ruling that the airwaves belong to the people, not the government, and the recommendations of the parliamentary subcommittee headed by Ram Vilas Paswan, now railway minister, the Sengupta suggestions should not be very difficult to put into practice. But Ibrahim seems to have other ideas: "As long as I am here, no foreign broadcaster will be given uplink facilities." One more query: Is this his personal opinion or is he speaking for the United Front Government?
Whatever it is, it is high time such dilatory methods are abandoned. Says Kiran Karnik, chief operating officer of Discovery Channel, one satellite TV service that can do without uplink facilities in India: "For any game to be conducted smoothly, clear ground rules and an unbiased referee are the prerequisites. Unfortunately, in India one of the players, the I&B Ministry, is also the referee." Doubtless, the I&B Ministry must stop being the referee. The telecom sector was liberalised in five years flat. But the Prasar Bharati concept has been around for nearly two decades. Yet, the broadcasting environment continues to be vitiated by exasperatingly narrow xenophobia.