BJP, CPI-M support broadcasters, PM says no final decision yet (Third Lead)

January 14th, 2009 - 10:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) With leading opposition parties rallying around broadcasters protesting against a move to “gag” the media, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday said any decision on television guidelines to deal with emergency situations would be taken only after “widest possible consultations with all the stakeholders”. The prime minister’s assurance came amid calls by leading opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) asking the government to evolve a consensus on this contentious issue.

“The government should not impose any curb (on the media) since it can be misused,” BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani said in a statement, after a meeting with editors of major television channels in Delhi.

He also stressed on self-regulation by the media and said, “it is imperative that TV channels evolved a code of self- regulation, which ensures that anti-national elements are not able to take advantage of the freedom of media in the country.”

“The prime minister has received several representations from the media agencies regarding certain proposed changes in the Cable Television Network Rules currently under consideration,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“He has assured that the matter will be taken up for finalization only after the widest possible consultation with all the stakeholders and eliciting their different points of view on the proposed changes,” the statement added.

The prime minister’s response comes a day after top news broadcasters wrote a letter to him protesting what they saw as an attempt to muzzle the freedom of the media in the guise of introducing restraint in emergency situations.

Recalling the dark days of the 1975 emergency when he was jailed, Advani told editors: “The country can never forget the kind of extreme censorship the media had been subjected to during the emergency of 1975-77.”

Although the information and broadcasting ministry has yet to unveil these proposals, according to broadcasters, these could include a plan to provide visuals and footage through a nodal agency in a situation, which is deemed “nationally important”.

In a joint statement, the editors of leading news channels said Tuesday: “The government’s proposed amendment is aimed at reining in media in the name of coverage of anti-terror operations, sex, crimes, narco-analysis footage.”

“The self-regulation attempts which were put in place by the news channels have been completely disregarded by the government and attempts are now being made to completely subjugate the media into virtually perform the role of government public relations wing,” they added.

Cutting across the ideological divide, the BJP and the CPI-M have rallied in support of broadcasters over proposed measures to control the electronic media in emergency situations.

In a letter to Manmohan Singh, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said “no hasty steps” should be taken for media regulation and suggested “a common approach” before any step is taken in this direction.

“Our party is of the opinion that no hasty steps should be taken for media regulation,” Karat said.

The CPI-M leader stressed that besides the self-regulatory mechanism put in place by news channels, “co-regulation” was needed through the establishment of an independent regulatory body.

BJP president Rajnath Singh also underlined the need for evolving a consensus over the proposed amendments to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act.

“The parliament will be meeting shortly. They should evolve a consensus and consult all political parties before proceeding with it,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a function at the party headquarters.

Acting convener of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Sharad Yadav echoed the need for a collective approach. “The government can’t take a unilateral decision on such an issue,” he said.

Editors of leading news channels have contended that most most of the proposed amendments have already been accommodated in the self-regulatory emergency guidelines unveiled by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) last month.

If the proposed amendments, which have already been vetted by the law ministry and circulated amongst the defence and home ministries, are accepted, district magistrates and sub-divisional magistrates, besides police commissioners, will have the power to block live transmission by any channel and confiscate transmission equipment, they said in a statement Tuesday.

They also pointed out that the existing laws already gives enough powers to the government to legally act against channels which are violating the conditions laid out under the licensing agreements.

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