Precis Writing on Government Control Over Cable T.V.

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The union cabinet's approval of an information and Broadcasting ministry proposal to bring forward legislation to regulate cable television is belated but necessary step. The boom in cable television following the satellite invasion of the skies has revolutionized the medium in ways that are still not fully appreciated. And the full potential of multiple and free choice in viewing that satellite and cable television represent, has far from been realised as yet. With millions of homes being inundated with entertainment and information programmes from all kind of sources, it is obvious that some degree of regulation is essential in the public and national interest. But the precise nature and means of regulation are bound to be contentious. It is as well that the Government appears to be proceeding carefully. The bill will require cable operators to register themselves and their operations will be monitored. All operators will be obliged to telecast one Doordarshan channel for purposes of important public information and to use equipment conforming to ISI standards. All operators will also have to observe programme and advertisement codes which have still to be evolved.
Just how the programme content and equipment of tens of thousands of neighbourhood cable operators are to be monitored remains to be seen. If it leads to an army of local inspectors it is bound to lead to petty corruption without any real efficiency. And of what use would such a monitoring agency be in a few year's time when technological developments put small and cheap satellite dishes within reach of individual household? Similar problems are presented by the other objectives of the proposed Bill. Some kind of minimal programme and advertisement codes are obviously necessary to protect audiences against things like pornography, inflammatory propaganda and misleading information. The difficult question as always in these matters is who is the best judge of what audiences should or should not see, governments or private citizens? It must be hoped that the intended programme codes will be drafted with the greatest care so as to protect rather than infringe individual rights. As general rule, regulatory bodies will have to rely on complaints from audiences rather than their own inspectors to be able to intervene promptly. At the same time, there should be no occasion under the guise, of enforcing programme codes to interfere with the freedom of expression and information as has been the case all too often with the programmes of independent producers supplying Doordarshan.
The I & B Ministery would do well given the many difficulties in drafting its new Bill to consult informed public opinion, television producers advertising professional and other experts on the mechanisms for regulating cable television as well as programme codes. It should also encourage the formation of self-regulating bodies for cable and network operators.


The use of cable T.V. in millions of homes has made it essential for the government to bring about some kind of regulation. Accordingly union cabinet has approved of I & B ministry proposal to bring forward legislation. It is a most welcome step but the real problem lies in the nature of legislation to control the cable operators. All the cable operators will be required to register themselves. Their operation will be monitored. They will have to comply with programme and advertisements and codes laid down by the government. They will also have to telecast one Doordarshan channel. The question is when cheap satellite dishes are within the reach of individual house-holds, these regulatory methods will be rendered useless. Still some kind of programmes and advertisement codes are necessary to protect the Viewers against the dangers of pornography and misleading information. While drafting new Bill, those engaged in the field of production and advertisement programme should be consulted beforehand so as not to violate the right of expression and speech of the people.