I&B ministry has issued just 6 licences in 9 months, and is playing bureaucratic football with the home ministry and the cabinet secretariat on clearances.
New Delhi: The information and broadcasting ministry has drastically slowed down the process of issuing licences to satellite television channels. The reason? Bureaucratic football between this ministry, the home ministry and the cabinet secretariat, on who will issue clearances.
ThePrint has learnt that the I&B ministry is currently sitting on nearly 130 proposals, and has only issued six licences in the last nine months, four of which were cleared in the last two weeks. In comparison, 84 licences were issued in the 15-odd months between May 2016 and August 2017, according to official data.
Recently, a media industry delegation complained to the Prime Minister’s Office about this slowdown. The PMO, in turn, pulled up the I&B ministry for not doing what is considered one of its core jobs. Following this rebuke, the ministry initiated work on 11 proposals, highly-placed sources said.
What has slowed down the clearances
The I&B ministry has repeatedly cited security clearances as the reason for these delays. It wrote to the ministry of home affairs (MHA) and the cabinet secretariat in this regard, but both replied that the ministry should clear the permissions on its own.
At present, the MHA grants security clearances to TV and radio channels after assessing them on parameters pertaining to national security. Clearances are needed for fresh licences and renewals, as well as if a company has to participate in auctions.
Along with security clearances, the MHA also shares certain inputs about the company in question to be considered by the I&B ministry, ranging from economic crimes to cases of money laundering and land-grabbing, among others.
Last year, the I&B ministry wrote to the MHA that it was not equipped to “dig deep” into the information provided, and that it also didn’t have day-to-day information about the cases mentioned.
“Thus, it would become very difficult for MIB to take any unilateral decision on such cases,” the ministry said, adding that the MHA should instead start issuing “composite clearance keeping all security aspects in view”.
In its reply, the MHA dismissed the I&B ministry’s request. The MHA said it received proposals for security clearances from various ministries, and aside from granting clearances based on core national security parameters, additional inputs like prosecution for corruption and fraud were shared with the ministries concerned for their consideration “in the context of their extant policy, procedures, practices, contract/tender related guidelines etc as deemed appropriate”.
“The administrative ministry may take the additional inputs given by the MHA into consideration as required in the light of their own policy, procedures, practices, contract/licence/tender related guidelines,” it added.
After the MHA’s ‘snub’, the I&B ministry wrote to the cabinet secretariat, reiterating its earlier stance of lacking the expertise to dig deep into the inputs provided by the MHA. It said that in light of this situation, “it has… become very difficult for the MIB to take any decisions in such cases”.
In a recent reply to the ministry, the cabinet secretariat too said the primary responsibility to assess the implications of inputs about applicants in the specific context of the proposal was that of the ministry concerned, clearly indicating that it was the I&B ministry’s duty.
Two weeks ago, a delegation from the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, an industry broadcasters’ body, met PMO officials to complain about pending permissions, among other issues in the broadcasting sector.
The ministry is learnt to have started processing files after this development.
IBF secretary general Girish Srivastava, in an email reply to queries from ThePrint, said clearances for new TV channels were “generally being held up due to the cumbersome processes involved”.
“The IBF has made a series of representations in the past before the government with a request to do the process re-engineering for reducing the overall time-frame involved in such clearances. In future, we will continue with our efforts,” he said.
The I&B ministry did not respond to ThePrint’s requests for comment.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.