India finally gets new broadcasting law

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NEW DELHI -- After years of dithering, India's government has approved a comprehensive broadcasting law that seeks to regulate the electronic media through guidelines and mandatory licenses for running local radio and TV networks.

The key ingredients of the bill that will become law when it debuts before the current session of Parliament include an autonomous Broadcast Authority of India which will license radio and TV broadcasters; a 49% limit on foreign investment in locally-incorporated broadcasters uplinking from Indian soil; a 20% ceiling on cross-media ownership; and granting a degree of autonomy to state-run networks All-India Radio and TV broadcaster Doordarshan.

The bill forms part of the government's efforts to regulate the 50-plus TV channels broadcast industry. It takes inspiration from the U.K. for a proposed tax on radio and TV sets and from the U.S. for restrictions on cross-media ownership of electronic media and print media like newspapers.

All broadcasters intent on covering India will have to apply for a license, follow Indian norms on acceptable program content and be subject to local censorship laws. Ad agencies will not be allowed to own local media, a rule already in force.

Broadcasters beaming their TV and radio services in India currently take advantage of the toothless nature of two ancient Indian laws covering communications, the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, both formed prior to the advent of TV.

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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