Free Speech is Sacrosanct: Uday Shankar Chairman, FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee

By Pickle  February 14, 2018

“To unleash the potential of wealth creation by M&E sector, it is imperative that the right to free speech be protected and the lens through which the industry is looked at be changed,” says Uday Shankar, Chairman, FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee at FICCI FRAMES 2013.

Uday Shankar Chairman, FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee and CEO, Star India

“To unleash the potential of wealth creation by M&E sector, it is imperative that the right to free speech be protected and the lens through which the industry is looked at be changed,” says Uday Shankar, Chairman, FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee at FICCI FRAMES 2013.

Highlighting challenges faced by the media industry, Uday Shankar, Chairman of FICCI Media and Entertainment (M&E) Committee, said efforts to curb free speech in a robust democracy like India was one of the biggest threats that could potentially derail the industry from its growth trajectory.

“When ‘Satyamev Jayate’ points to weaknesses in the medical system,doctors are offended. When ‘Jolly LLB’ creates a courtroom satire, lawyers are offended. Even when a teenager posts a comment on Facebook, some people start baying for her blood,” Shankar said while delivering the theme address at the FICCI FRAME 2013.

Expressing concerns that freedom of speech was still being questioned even after over 60 years of independence, he said it was time to recognize that free speech was “sacrosanct” and not “the right to be offended”.

“We all agree that the role of media is to question status quo. But with the right to question must come the right to provoke and the right to offend. In the absence of these, there is no debate and without debate there is no clarity. But we seem to be regressing in this area,” said Shankar, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Star India.

Shankar said the industry was “capable of creating employment and wealth much faster than most other sectors and with the ability to be a force multiplier, like it is in most countries”. The $15-billion media and entertainment industry employs as many as six million people, he added.

The 14th edition of FICCI FRAMES, the foremost business gathering in the media and entertainment sector that brings the media and entertainment industry and policy makers on a single platform, adopted this year’s theme as ‘Engaging a Billion Consumers’.

“In business and creative terms, the Indian media and entertainment sector still remains much smaller than it should be in a country of 1.2 billion people,” said Shankar, adding that “our collective and individual ambitions should be taking wings around this big opportunity”.

Highlighting other challenges that need to be addressed to unlock the industry’s growth potential, Shankar said: “The lens often used to look at this industry is largely one of glamour and propaganda and the biggest debate is on how to control and contain it. As a result, the growth of M&E has not been supported by policy and regulatory initiatives.”

He said the M&E industry, particularly in India, can be an employment generator without massive public investments and without being hampered by the deficiencies of public infrastructure.

“Why would you not nourish an industry which has the potential to become a huge employer? Why would you not fuel an industry that can grow with more policy support than resource support?” he asked, referring to the government’s decision to double customs duty on import of set-top boxes in the union budget for 2012-13.

“Instead of giving fiscal support to digitalization which can unlock huge economic value, there is an imposition of additional customs duties on set-top boxes. The time has come for all of us to make sure that it is not just industry status that we seek, but a fundamental change in mindset, ”Shankar said.

He also pointed out that the media and entertainment sector lacked reliable data to measure audience response across verticals. He made a call for action by the industry.

“Numbers are supposed to be the foundations of rational business decisions. But how can we make decisions when professionals in the business of numbers can’t get their numbers straight?” he asked the audience.

“The lack of reliable data is not limited to TAMs (Technology Acceptance Models). In fact, as a TV executive, I am surprised sometimes how I am even able to function. I do not know enough about my viewers – in fact I don’t even know how many of them are there.

“There are 140 million cable and satellite homes but the measured universe is 62 million households. The country’s premier media agencies can’t even seem to agree on a fact as basic as the size of the advertising market.”

Warning that the industry was facing an imminent talent crunch, Shankar said: “We hide under the pretense of creativity and have convinced ourselves that creativity gives us the license to be informal and chaotic.

“It is this informality and chaos that has seeped into our approach to spotting and grooming talent. This is dangerous. We must realize that discipline and formality are not antithetical to creativity and if anything they are necessary ingredients to fostering the creative process.”

Stating that the industry has a real crisis on both supply and quality sides, he said: “While it is not unique to the Media and Entertainment sector, what is different is the lack of recognition of the scale of the challenge. While other fast growing sectors like IT and financial services are actively working to find the right talent and building the right skills, we, as a community are complacent in our belief that this sector is different.”

Elaborating further, Shankar said: “In the last 10 years,there has been a manifold increase in the content we have produced, the number of channels, the number of newspapers, the number of radio stations, and the number of films –but there is not even a nominal increase in the number of quality training institutions to support this kind of growth. Fly-by-night training shops have mushroomed,making the problem even worse.”

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