| 30 May 2023
2012: A year of contra-indications or missed opportunities

NEW DELHI: Every time the new year is beginning, the media starts preparing a list of things that they can expect from the government. But when 2012 began, the agenda of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry was more or less clear, whether it was with regard to third phase of FM Radio, cable television digitization or a new financial structure for Prasar Bharati.

But by the time the year ended, one realized that 2012 had been a year of missed opportunities, or at best contra-indications for what the Ministry had set out to do and what it achieved. 

And despite the change at the top with Mr Manish Tewari taking the place of Mrs Ambika Soni as Minister in October, things did not change. Clearly, more research needed to be done into some of the actions that the Ministry attempted to rush to achieve.

Even though it had been made clear in late 2011 that the auctions for the FM Radio Phase III would begin by the end of 2012, the target still appears some months away. Even as the government announced ascending e-auction much on the lines of the 3G auctions, 89 per cent of the operators surveyed by Ernst and Young said they opposed this not only because it would raise the licence fee but also because it was not a suitable method for auctioning natural resources (airwaves being a natural resource, according to the Supreme Court).

It was later stated that the Ministry expected to call for tenders by September-end for 839 FM channels in 294 cities, but the delay was attributed later by the Ministry to ironing out some thorny issues.

TRAI recommended reduction in the minimum channel spacing from 800 KHz to 400 KHz within a license service area in FM Radio sector in India, something the Empowered Group of Ministers is studying.

With the entire process of FM radio Phase III auctions getting delayed due to various reasons, the government extended the last date of signing the Grant of Permission Agreement (GOPA) from 31 December 2012 to 30 June 2013. Thus operators wanting to migrate to Phase-III regime can now execute the GOPA by 30 June 2013.

The Ernst and Young survey also showed that operators did not agree with the reserve price for new cities being the highest bid price received during Phase II auctions for that category of cities in that region as decided by the Ministry. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Telecom was asked to issue detailed guidelines by 12 October to bring into force a decision to totally waive spectrum fee for community radio services, but this has still not happened.

The Union Cabinet formally approved the proposal for financial restructuring of Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) in mid-September based on the recommendations of a Group of Ministers but no tangible steps had been taken by the year-end. Similarly, no action was taken to fill 1150 of the 8462 vacant posts in Prasar Bharati despite a government decision.

But there were some silver lines behind the dark clouds. The Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012 passed by Parliament came into effect in June, declaring authors as owners of the copyright, which cannot be assigned to the producers as was the practice till now. It became mandatory for broadcasters - both radio and television - to pay royalty to the owners of the copyright each time a work of art is broadcast. It bans people from bringing out cover versions of any literary, dramatic or musical work for five years from the first recording of the original creation.

And in the budget early in the year, the Government today placed "admission to entertainment or access to amusement services" in the Negative List – a new List for which there will be no service tax. Then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in his budget speech for 2012-13 announced exemption of the film industry from service tax on copyrights relating to recording of cinematographic films. The Negative List also contains selling of space or time slots for advertisements other than advertisements broadcast by radio or television; and betting, gambling or lottery.