Monday, April 19, 2010

How has the 1995 landmark SC judgment regarding air waves affected the electronic media scene in India?

The Supreme Court held in February 1995 that the airwaves or frequencies were a public property in a dispute between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Cricket Association of Bengal. The court held that:

    The use of airwaves had to be controlled and regulated by a public authority in the interests of the public and to prevent the invasion of their rights. Since the electronic media involved the use of the airwaves, this factor creates an inbuilt restriction on its use, as in the case of any other public property.

    The Supreme Court held that the right to impart and receive information is a species of the right of freedom. The best means of imparting and receiving information as such is to have access to telecasting for the purpose. However, this right to have access to telecasting has limitations on account of the use of public property -- viz., the airwaves -- involved in the exercise of the right and can be controlled and regulated by a public authority. This limitation imposed by the nature of the public property involved in the use of the electronic media is in addition to the restrictions imposed on the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 [2] of the Constitution.

    The Supreme Court instructed the Central Government to take immediate steps to establish an independent, autonomous public authority representative of all sections and interests in society to control and regulate the use of the airwaves. The Supreme Court said that a diversity of opinions, views and ideas cannot be provided by a medium controlled by a monopoly -- whether the monopoly is of the State or any other individual, group or organisation. “As a matter of fact, private broadcasting stations may perhaps be more prejudicial to the free speech right of the citizens than government-controlled media, as explained in the body of the judgment. The broadcasting media should be under the control of the public as distinct from Government. This is the command implicit in Article 19(1)(a).”

Falling in line with the decision the government:

    Formulated a Broadcasting Bill in 1996 which rests regulatory powers with an autonomous Broadcasting Authority and lays down guidelines for granting licenses to private broadcasters.
    The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting announced its decision in June 1998 to allow private Indian satellite channels to uplink from India.

Within a decade from the 1995 judgment dramatic changes in the country's media began taking shape, a process which had already started with the liberalization of market in 1992 and a deluge of film-based entertainment, news and current affairs provided by private channels started all around. All India Radio and Doordarshan, once country's officially anointed public service broadcasters, have become undecided incarnations of their former selves.

For the audience the elimination of direct state control has given endless variety of programs. Market imperatives have already forced the once state-owned AIR and Doordarshan to abdicate their responsibilities, ringing the death knell on the state's role in public service broadcasting.

A quick overview indicates:

    * Radio having the maximum population reach (97.3%) followed by television (425 million)
    * The unmatched reach of Doordarshan (350 million), especially in rural areas, despite the rapid increases in satellite television reach (70 million).

Some key factors to bear in mind is that despite the leapfrogging in satellite television, and the significant trends in that brand of programming, the majority of the population has access only to All India Radio and Doordarshan. A second factor is that much of this analysis indicates trends mostly among English and Hindi programmes – the predominant languages of the media discussed – to the exclusion of 25-plus other languages and dialects in the country.

The Media in India: Key Features and Landmarks:

All India Radio and Doordarshan were state owned until 1997 under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting with primary declared aims of promoting the social objectives of the nation such as literacy and family planning.

February 1991: The Gulf war creates an unprecedented demand for cable television among Indian viewers wanting to follow the CNN coverage of the war. The demand for cable television continues after the war ends.

May 1991: Launch of satellite television in the form of the Hong-Kong based Star TV with its 39-nation footprint. Star TV transforms the face of Indian television, with its multiple channels and aggressive market-driven entertainment programming. Other private channels follow such as Zee TV, Sony TV, Sun, and Gemini. Doordarshan's revenues are fast depleted.

February 1995: A landmark Supreme Court judgement ruling declares that “airwaves are a public property.”

1996: A Broadcasting Bill is drafted which is an apex legislation on broadcasting. The Bill subsumes the Prasar Bharati Act of 1990 by spelling out autonomy for the Broadcasting Authority of India (to replace the role of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) to regulate public and private broadcasting. The Bill also lays down guidelines for granting licenses to satellite, terrestrial and cable broadcasters to establish and operate radio and TV channels to the "highest techno-commercially acceptable bidder."

August 1998: the Prasar Bharati Act is passed by the lower house of parliament, with an amendment that the Broadcasting Authority will be overseen by a 32-member parliamentary committee. The broadcast media stands poised on the brink of autonomy, awaiting the President's signature.

2000, The Information Technology Act:  An Act to provide legal recognition for transactions carried out by means of electronic data interchange and other means of electronic communication, commonly referred to as "electronic commerce", which involve the use of alternatives to paper-based methods of communication and storage of information, to facilitate electronic filing of documents with the Government agencies.

In recent years government has been considering issuing more spectrum so that high speed internet, IPTV, VSAT and more TV and radio stations along with mobile companies could be allotted spectrum. The spectrum, a large portion of which is held by the services, once released fully would increase highly the quality of broadcasting and services. It is very significant as the next major round of growth in the media sector, as per studies, will come with the help mobile telephony.

Broadcast Media:


There are 116 million radio radio sets. Radio covers 97.3% of the country's population and 91% of the country's geographical area. The number of radio stations has increased from about 100 in 1990 to 209 in 1997, and the land area covered from 84% to 91%. Currently, there are 248 private radio stations operating in India, along with the state-owned All India Radio and 800 -odd stations are due to come up for auctioning in phase three of private radio's expansion in India. According to one estimate, the industry clocked advertising revenues of Rs 1,000-odd crore in 2008, though a major share of this revenue is limited to a few players. It is one of the fastest growing and most organised parts of the estimated $16.7 billion media and entertainment industry in India. Still what is not clear, however, is how it could become profitable. Radio broadcasting is done in 24 languages and 146 dialects.

Listenership has sharply risen thanks to the recent time allotment to private companies on five FM stations. Film and other popular music constitute the main fare of such stations. The total number of private FM radio stations in India has increased to 69, with eleven new FM stations getting commissioned in April and May 2007.


The number of private television channels has increased from none in 1990 to around 200 channels operating with nearly 15-16 Television companies beaming programmes to India in the year 2007 . The major players being Doordarshan, STAR TV (Satellite Television Asia Network), Zee Television, United Television, CNN, Sony Television, ATN (Asia Television Network), BBC World, SUN TV, Discovery Channel, TNT and Others.  India’s television business has an estimated $3.4 billion in revenue in 2005, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. It is also starting to exert greater cultural influence. Entertainment constitutes about 51% of the total programme content. News and education constitute a mere 13.3% and 9.6% of programme content.

There is no longer the captive audience of the mid-80s, and there are several competing channels and soaps to choose from. This has brought TRP ratings in recent years, which have become of prime importance to generate ad revenues.

Television has the highest number of "heavy viewers" (43.6%) while the press has 41.1% non-readers, and radio 70.6% non-listeners, according to a study conducted in the metros of eight most advanced states. At present there are more than 100 million  homes which own TV. So, actually media has considerably increased.

The Internet:

Recognising that access to information and information technologies play a key role in development, especially given the constraints of the mass media internet holds the promise for the future. However, the extremely low access to internet – there are a mere 4.2 million  internet subscribers in the country as in 2007, bringing the density to decimal points – is a key hindrant.

Television and cable:

The media and Entertainment (M&E) industry in the annual Ficci report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shows the sector has outperformed most others, and grown at a healthy 18-19 per cent clip over the past 4-5 years. Projecting the same compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18 per cent, PwC estimates the M&E industry will more than double its size, from Rs 51,300 crore to Rs 1,15,700 crore, by 2012. Last year, too, the industry maintained its 18 per cent growth rate, moving from Rs 43,800 crore in 2006 to Rs 51,300 crore in 2007.


At a Glance (2005)

Television 110 million sets 250-300+ million viewers

Channels available 200 channels 110 Million homes

190 million viewers a week

Color TV sets 56 million

Satellite/Cable connected TV sets 61 million

24hour News Channels-25 channels

Radio-135 million sets Nearly 300 million Listeners

AIR Stations– 115, Local 77, Vivid Bharati – 39, 115 primary, 78 local in 24 languages and 146 dialects
60 million listeners a day.183 million over 3 months FM channels 37 private and 139 of AIR 96 million listeners


Landlines 54 million 26/1000 people
Mobile 45 million 7/1000 people
Internet 13 million
(Source: CMS Media Lab Compilation)

Role and relevance of news media in terms of concerns and contents have included new considerations. Until a few years ago these were to do with the “Fourth Estate” notions and “watchdog” standing. For, that is how the news media have been enjoying certain privileges and societal status. The news media are expected to have larger and long range concerns about society, not just market compulsions or competitive concerns.
   The paradigm shift in media involves consumerism which a global phenomenon which dictates the media priorities today. They cater more for the greed not so much for the needs of a majority of people. That is how market sustains the media. 30 years ago, 55- 77% of the total revenue of newspapers was from the readers. Today it is advertising which sustains media. There is a declining dependence on the reader and the viewer. And yet media are able to grow and increase their profits because of growth opportunities in the country.

No comments:

Post a Comment