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Women empowerment, farming — now, news channels must show 30-min ‘public interest’ content daily

The Union Cabinet approved the amended policy guidelines for satellite TV news channels Wednesday. This is the first time that changes have been made to the rules since 2011.

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New Delhi: From now on, news channels in India will be obligated to broadcast at least 30 minutes of content daily on themes of “national importance and social relevance”, like women’s empowerment, agriculture, and cultural heritage.

This is one of several new policies listed in the amended ‘Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Satellite Television Channels in India’, approved by the Union Cabinet Wednesday. The last time amendments were made in this regard was 11 years ago, in 2011.

In addition to the “mandatory” half an hour of national interest stories, the new guidelines seek to make compliance and doing business easier for TV channels.

This includes measures like doing away with the requirement to seek prior permission before live coverage of a non-news event, with only a basic registration being required instead. Further, a news agency can get permission to operate for five years rather than just one, as is the case at present.

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) secretary Apurva Chandra, while speaking to the media following the announcement, talked about how these regulations were revised with the motive of keeping them “simple”.

“The first guidelines came in 2005 and then it was amended in 2011,” Chandra explained. “We are trying to improve the structure after 11 years. The main intention was to ensure ease of doing business and to ensure simplicity for all stakeholders to understand what exactly they have to abide by. These will also help companies to acquire permissions easily.”

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Govt will monitor public service broadcasting’

During the media briefing, ministry officials emphasised how there is an obligation on every news channel to broadcast shows to serve the better interests of society.

The guidelines offer up some suggestions on what this might entail —  programmes on “national integration”, rural welfare, science and technology, women’s empowerment, literacy, and so on —  but there are more advisories expected in this matter that will help tighten the framework.

“We will bring more clarity as we move further,” Sanjiv Shankar, I&B joint secretary (broadcasting), told ThePrint. “This happens to [laws] in our country as well. We will issue more clarifications as we move ahead.”

The guidelines note that the central government may from time to time “issue general advisory to the channels for telecast of content in national interest, and the channel shall comply with the same.”

Chandra, while answering a question on enforcing this directive, said the ministry would monitor the broadcasting of these half-hour shows on every channel and would take action against those that failed to comply with the new requirements.

Changes in uplinking/downlinking policies

The guidelines state that foreign signals may now also be uplinked using Indian teleports  — ground-based centres that help in the interconnections of signals from different satellite networks — with neighbouring nations such as Bhutan and Bangladesh being able to avail of this service.

“This will have the potential to improve our forex,” Chandra added.

A ‘downlink’ is when a communication satellite sends data down to ground stations or receivers. An ‘uplink’ is the opposite, when a ground station sends up data to the satellite.

Another change allows organisations to use more than one satellite or teleport. Earlier, organisations were allowed to use just one.

The rules now also stipulate that uplinking must be done in the frequency band specified by the applicant and approved by the ministry, subject to the condition that uplinking should be encrypted for all satellite frequencies other than the C band.

In September, the I&B Ministry had revoked Zee Media’s permission to uplink to Ku band satellite frequency, stating that the company had breached uplink and downlink rules to access huge audiences on DD Free Dish, a direct-to-home (DTH) service owned by public broadcaster Prasar Bharti without paying auction fees in accordance with government rules.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

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