2009: A year of hope & promise for the I&B ministry

With the telecom ministry preparing to start 3G spectrum auction for operators, the I&B ministry is getting applications for starting new TV channels virtually on a daily basis even as there are already 500 channels on air

A high-definition format for television viewers to enjoy the Commonwealth Games and efforts for auction of 3G spectrum were some matters that kept the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry busy in 2009, reports PTI.

Though there was not much forward movement for the ministry in the year gone by, a ray of hope filtered in at the fag end as the government approved the delayed Headend in the Sky (HITS), which gives cable operators an option to distribute signals through satellite and provide digital transmission to subscribers.

UK-based Satellite Information Service Live was shortlisted in October by the ministry for broadcasting the Games through HITS on behalf of Doordarshan.

The year saw high-pitched confrontations in the Prasar Bharati Board, deep freeze of the much-awaited Broadcast Bill due to wrangling on the content code, efforts for auction of 3G spectrum and the government trying to stop entry of fly-by-night TV and other media operators.

On the upside, a major change was seen in the print media when the government allowed Indian editions of two foreign publications.

But the Broadcast Bill remained in deep freeze with the ministry and the broadcasters trying to hammer out a set of content regulation rules, acceptable to both parties.

The first half of 2009 under Anand Sharma witnessed confrontation between Prasar Bharati Board members and chief executive BS Lalli.

In May-end, just days after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) assumed office again, confrontations between Mr Lalli and the board members were at their highest pitch and Prasar Bharati chairman Arun Bhatnagar resigned from his post. His resignation was accepted only on 18th December after a gap of seven months.

Ambika Soni, who succeeded Mr Sharma in the second UPA regime, sent a detailed report on the infighting within the public broadcaster to prime minister Manmohan Singh. Alleged irregularities in Prasar Bharati were also being investigated as per directions of the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.

Ms Soni was unhappy over the unused infrastructure worth crores of rupees at Doordarshan headquarters in Mandi House and directed officials to start broadcasting of DD News from there from 19th November.

She had also asked DD officials to shift operations to Mandi House. Till date, the transfer of assets to Mandi House is yet to start. Doordarshan does all its production work from its Khel Gaon studios.

Ms Soni invited broadcasters, who were wary especially after the ministry's warning to adhere to its Content Code—formulated after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks—on TV coverage of news and sensitive events, for discussions on developing content regulations.

Concerned over the growing number of TV channels, with many being run by fly-by-night operators, she has also sought the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) views on regulating the entry of new channels.

With the telecom ministry preparing to start 3G spectrum auction for operators, the I&B ministry is getting applications for starting new TV channels virtually on a daily basis even as there are already 500 channels on air.

In another move, Ms Soni wrote a letter to home minister P Chidambaram on unauthorised telecast of several religious TV channels, in clear violation of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. Mr Chidambaram assured Ms Soni that his ministry would look into the matter.

Ms Soni also floated the concept of a parental lock system and fixing 'watershed hours' for showing adult content on TV through discussions with broadcasters. Such a provision would help parents lock certain channels, which they think should not be viewed by children, while adult content could be shown between 11pm and 4am.

During the year, the ministry also gave clearance to two foreign publications—Spectator and Forbes—to bring out their Indian editions.

Ms Soni announced her ministry would soon amend the Press and Registration of Books Act 1867, which would be known as the Press and Registration of Publications Act 2009.

Among others, the new Act will look into blocking frivolous and non-serious publications. The preamble of the Act will be modified to include provisions for foreign direct investment (FDI), facsimile editions of foreign publications and Indian editions of foreign publications.

By 31 March 2010, the draft of the amended Act would be put up on the ministry's website and stakeholders' comments will be sought, before sending it to Parliament.

Ms Soni also announced that four more Indian Institutes of Mass Communication (IIMC) will be set up to meet growing demand for media professionals, taking the number of IIMCs to six from the existing two.

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  • A Hearth for the Homeless

    Ravi Samalad tells the story of one man's quest to build a home for the mentally ill, destitute and aged men and women wandering the streets of Madurai

    N Krishnan, a catering graduate from Kamaraj University, worked at a five-star hotel in Bengaluru. He was even short-listed for a job in Switzerland that would have boosted his career. But, instead of serving the well-heeled at a five-star hotel, he chose to give it up to pursue a mission of feeding the hungry and the mentally ill on the streets of Madurai.

    Once on a trip to his hometown, Madurai, Mr Krishnan came across a homeless man under a bridge who was suffering from extreme hunger. Krishnan rushed to a nearby stall and bought him idlis. The man ate greedily. The overwhelming gratitude in the man’s eyes as he gulped the food changed Mr Krishnan’s life forever. The very next week, he rejected the Swiss job offer and started Akshaya Charity Trust. “Had the old man been vocal in his gratitude or thanked me profusely, I would probably have gone my way and never looked back to learn what happens to people like him,” Mr Krishnan told Moneylife.

    He and his volunteers now feed around 400 destitute people thrice every day, 365 days a year. It costs over Rs15,000 each day. The Trust has served around nine lakh meals so far without skipping a day.

    Mr Krishnan also received the ‘Unsung Heroes of Independent India’ award from the CNN IBN TV channel last year for his outstanding social work. The award consisted of a trophy and Rs5 lakh.

    “Our main focus is feeding people… we cook a fresh meal every time and the menu is changed every day,” said a committed volunteer. It all began with Mr Krishnan using his savings to buy food packets for around 30 people in June 2002. Although resource constraints forced him to limit his effort, he has been at the job for over seven years, even though the mentally ill can neither thank him nor understand his selfless effort.  The meals include substantive and nutritious preparations like idlis, dosas, pongal, coconut rice and biryani. Care is taken to ensure that the food is neither too spicy nor too oily, but just right to soothe hungry stomachs.

    Over time, word-of-mouth information about his work has brought in donations. But he still does not have an office and administrative expenses are nil. Neither Mr Krishnan nor his volunteers draw any remuneration. Only the cooks, drivers and assistants are compensated for their work.

    The Trust is also drawing people’s attention and contributions from places like the USA, Europe, Middle East and Singapore.

    “We help anyone who is old, helpless or mentally ill who we find on the streets. These helpless people don’t know how to take care of themselves and are usually left on the streets by their families,” said a volunteer who did not wish to be named. Mr Krishnan also helps extremely ill patients who are discarded even by hospitals. He provides them food and medication. He also helps cremate unclaimed bodies.

    Mr Krishnan wants to build a home for the aged and the mentally ill who are living on the streets of Madurai and ensure they get freshly cooked meals. If his project continues to receive monetary support, his dream could soon come true. His Trust has already purchased 2.6 acres of land with the funds donated by business organisations and other well-wishers.

    The Trust has mobilised Rs30 lakh so far and construction of two blocks of 4,800 sq ft has already begun. The land has been registered, permissions have been obtained and electrification as well as a bore-well are in place. The plan is to have eight blocks with dormitories covering 24,000 sq ft. The total construction cost is estimated at Rs3 crore and will include a kitchen, medical facilities, toilets and a dining hall. At the moment, construction has halted due to a shortage of funds.  

    “We come across mentally ill women who are exploited by anti-social elements and have even delivered babies on the street. That is why we want to build this home on a priority basis,” said a volunteer. You can help this plan to fructify through monetary donations or by volunteering your time.

    Akshaya’s Helping In H.E.L.P Trust
    9, West 1st Main Street,
    Doak Nagar Extension Madurai – 625 010
    Phone: (0) 452 4353439 / 2587104
    Mobile: (0) 9843319933
    email: [email protected]
    Website: www.akshayatrust.org

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