New Delhi: India’s broadcasting media industry seems to be divided as there are now two different bodies to represent television news channels.
A new association called the News Broadcasters Federation has been launched with three prominent national channels as members — Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV and Republic Bharat, and TV9 Bharatvarsh — along with over 45 regional channels.
This, industry insiders say, is set to function parallel to the existing body, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), headed by India TV’s Rajat Sharma. According to the NBA website, 70 news and current affairs channels are its members at present. Most national news channels have been members of the NBA, formed in October 2008.
The content regulation authority for news channels, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), was set up by the NBA. Besides the self-regulation of content, an industry body performs a variety of tasks, including putting across representations to the government.
However, with two different bodies for news broadcasters with near-similar mandates, there is confusion in the industry over which one will have the final word on crucial broadcasting-related matters. And with I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar recently congratulating the new NBF, the confusion has only grown.
“I am very sure and confident that the News Broadcasters Federation will be a platform to discuss matters relevant to the TV news industry… I wish the NBF all the very best,” Javadekar had said.
The need for a new body
Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, chairperson and MD of Pride East Entertainment, which has five channels under the NBF, including Newslive, told ThePrint that so far, regional channels were not represented adequately by any broadcasters’ body.
“We didn’t have any forum for regional channels. Now, through NBF, we are looking to represent ourselves in the national forum. Regional news channels also have several issues which needed to be addressed by a broadcasters’ body,” she said.
In 2014, an All India News Broadcasters Association, comprising of heads/owners of small and medium news channels, had come up, primarily for regional channels. However, this body is not currently active on broadcasting-related matters.
Other than regional channels’ interests, the charter of the NBF also talks about working with the government and industry to address the issue of “talent”, arising due to rapid changes in technology, dynamics and scale of business.
It also plans to design and launch special programmes to address the growing menace of piracy, agree on “measures to handle fake news from gaining undeserved propagation”, and protect its members from “persons” or entities who carry on unfair and/or unethical practices or who discredit the media sector, NBF insiders said.
While the NBF maintains there will be no clash with the NBA, industry insiders say it was fuelled by a competition between prominent news broadcasters, and also because the NBA, over the years, had left too many gaps.
“For example, the issue of fake news, high carriage fee for news content and such issues were never addressed by the NBA. Also, the NBA did not represent regional channels adequately and had turned out to be an elitist body,” a source said.
ThePrint tried to reach Rajat Sharma, president of the NBA, and Annie Joseph, its secretary-general, to ask about these allegations, but there was no response.
Defence of the NBA
Several industry insiders, however, have defended the NBA, saying it had pioneered many initiatives.
“To bring transparency and accountability and end the menace of piracy in the cable sector, NBA lobbied with the I&B ministry and the higher echelons of the government to digitise the cable sector as the first step. This resulted in the roadmap for implementation of Digital Addressable Cable TV System in four phases across the country,” one industry insider said.
The insider added that the NBA did take up the issue of carriage fees, which led to rationalisation of the fees in the 2017 regulations issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, and also worked on revising the rates of the government’s Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity to ensure that broadcasters get the market rates for advertisements.
“Also, NBSA has considered over 3,000 complaints till date, and its guidelines have been recognised by the top courts and the Election Commission,” the insider said.
However, another industry source said this was a setback for the NBA, as it had been demanding statutory status for NBSA guidelines.
‘They can co-exist’
Sources in the NBF said two industry bodies can coexist if they have different charters, and self-regulation of new content is just one part of the job.
“The NBF is still drawing up its plans on the aspect of self-regulation of content, but there are other issues to be addressed in the broadcasting sector,” a source in NBF said, adding that a broadcaster can choose to be a member of both bodies, as Republic TV currently is.
ThePrint tried to reach Republic chief Goswami for comment, but he didn’t respond.