August 14, 2015 7:59:14 pm
It was sometime in 2008, a few months before the general elections of 2009, that the Congress party had first articulated the idea of launching a large network of TV channels owned by its leaders or state units across the country. Congress veteran Veerappa Moily who then headed the media cell of the party, had said the party planned to ask its prominent leaders in the states to launch or facilitate the launch of “Congress channels”. The party, however, hasn’t had much success barring a few launches in states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Now it seems to have decided to launch a national channel of its own.
Should political parties be allowed to own and run TV channels is a debate that ran for a long time and then died an unfortunate death. When public discourse against political parties or politicians or their kith and kin owning TV channels reached a point where it couldn’t be ignored, the Congress-led government, in 2008, asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to deliberate and make recommendations on the subject.
It is interesting to note that it was immediately after mandating TRAI to make recommendations on the subject, that Congress had unveiled its aforementioned “launch TV channels” campaign. The party probably wanted to utilize the time between TRAI getting the mandate and finally presenting its report, to set up a broadcast network of its own. TRAI, finally, made its recommendations in 2014 and categorically stated that political parties should be barred from entering the broadcast space. In making its recommendations, it drew heavily upon the practices followed in countries such as the UK, Germany, Austria and Canada where political parties are not allowed to own TV channels.
TRAI’s recommendations, however, went unheeded. There is, however, an inherent contradiction in the idea of a political party owning a TV news channel which is meant dispense free and fair information. There is no hidden agenda behind the Congress wanting its own news channel: it wants to have direct control over the communication about and from the party. Print being a medium with limited reach, TV is the obvious choice in the present times for those wanting to reach masses.
Yet, in the current Indian context, it may not be a bad idea to let the Congress or any political party for that matter, run its own channel. At a time when there are more than 800 channels in the country, half of which present news and current affairs related programmes in some form or the other, the number of those openly owned by political parties or politicians is less than those owned or controlled by them indirectly.
Besides, there are numerous reports in the public space about TV channels with dubious financial and management structures. A party publicly owning and running a channel is arguably a better situation than it running a channel through indirect control. Transparency about who owns and controls a platform will also allow people to make an informed choice about watching or not watching a channel besides forming an opinion about issues.
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