National Media & Entertainment Policy is the Need of the Hour: Amit Khanna

By Pickle  August 15, 2018

As India celebrates its 72nd Independence Day, the Media and Entertainment sector is on the cusp of a major transformation despite grappling with seven decades of government apathy. However, the future growth of this sector calls for major interventions not only on the policy front but also on providing the right creative environment and good financial and regulatory ecosystem to give this sunrise sector a shot in the arm.

The future of India’s Media and Entertainment sector lies in digital space. However, following seven decades of apathy faced by the sector it has been left grappling with multitude of challenges including outdated laws and ill-equipped institutions, says Media and Entertainment industry veteran and former chairman of Reliance Entertainment Amit Khanna, who suggests several future course of actions that can be taken by the government to help the sector realise its full potential.

“The future lies in the Digital space. The present debate about fake news, bots and trolling is a phase which is about to run its course within the next few years. With AI, curation and customization, news and information will be focused and personalized,” wrote Khanna recently in a column for Business World that traces the trajectory of the Indian Media and Entertainment sector since India’s Independence.

“India is the only major country in the world without a broadcast regulator. An ill-equipped Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been trying to handle the important and vital sector of Broadcasting and New Media on an ad hoc basis even as India becomes a digital nation. We need a Convergence Commission on the lines of FCC or OFCOM to oversee the new Digital world of Content, platforms, access, and devices. This should have Industry experts and others with domain knowledge and not retired and serving bureaucrats or telecom officers,” he says.

Khanna also put his views strongly on the “inherent conflict in the role of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Ministry of Telecommunications & Information Technology”.

“Besides the HRD Ministry handles IPR (Copyright) and Culture Ministry does its sideshow. It’s time we have one omnibus Ministry handling all subjects relating to Media & Entertainment,” he demands.

The industry veteran does not mince his words when he questions the efficacy of government’s efforts in ‘trying to monitor the news’ in an increasingly connected world. “Why is the Government wasting so much energy trying to monitor the news? It’s like trying to control the vast expanse of interstellar space,” he observes.

“We must have a group of experts and not Ministers and bureaucrats working on the future of our web-based content and delivery. Unfortunately, we have half-baked self-styled IT cells headed by vague people.”

Saying that digitization is a force multiplier, he also praises the current government’s initiative ‘I support Aadhaar’. “The obsession with privacy will soon be forgotten as in the world the tools to safeguard whatever information we want to conceal will be built in the websites and applications themselves. The rest, in any case, is in the public domain,” says Khanna, who was the founder chairman of Reliance Entertainment.

He counts himself amongst those who do not “believe (that) our freedom of expression is in peril”.

“The fact is there is a political realignment and there is a paradigm shift in the Industry structure which is causing disquiet. That said, the government should also stop trying to control the media. If the Prime Minister (Mr Narendra Modi) is correctly briefed on the potential of this Industry, things can change,” says Khanna as he pins his hopes on government interventions to propel Media and Entertainment industry’s growth.

“I agree that for too long our cultural elite and institutions have been in the stranglehold of a chosen few with a particular point of view,” says the industry veteran.

Speaking on the role played by successive governments in the growth of M&E Sector since Independence, Khanna says, “The first Government under Pandit Nehru ignored Entertainment, except for legislating a new Censorship Act in 1952, which actually carried on the legacy of Colonial British rulers. Nehru ‘s Government did, however, pass the Indian Copyright Act in 1957 ushering in the first modern Intellectual Property Regime.”

He, however, also praises the First Prime Minister of India for doing “excellent work in setting up the three Academies-Lalit Kala, Sangeet Natak, and Sahitya — which did yeomen work in supporting Culture in the early years of Independence”.

He also raises questions on the seriousness of harnessing India’s soft power through the M&E sector. “Let’s not forget, the global Media & Entertainment is a USD 2 trillion Industry while in India we are struggling to reach even USD 30 billion! The G20 countries have a Media & Entertainment sector averaging 3-5 % of GDP while India is at 1%. So much for soft power and knowledge economy.”

“The Prime Minister has reformed many sectors of our economy and industry then why not Media & Entertainment? A nation of 1.3 billion people wants options to be informed and entertained in Digital India,” says Khanna, who wishes that “before we celebrate our 75th anniversary of Independence we had a National Media & Entertainment policy framework, which takes into account the rapidly changing world. This is too important a sector to be neglected.”

Read Complete Business World column here

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