Home | articles | Hopes and Sighs of the National Broadcasting Policy, 2014.
by Barrister A B M Hamidul Mishbah
Article Published in the Dhaka Tribune on August 11, 2014
The National Broadcasting Policy 2014 received the Cabinet’s consent on August 04, 2014. The government’s initiative in this regard deserves to be applauded for the fact that the government felt the necessity to streamline and develop the broadcasting
The attempt however notably reflects the present government’s emphasis on strengthening democratic practice, ensuring
Stakeholders too, on the other hand, asked for an instrument which they believe could play the critical role in establishing a level playing field, bring
Nevertheless, the policy, which is alleged to have been drafted in isolation of all the key stakeholders, appears to have fallen short in living up to the stakeholders’ expectations.
The policy starting off with outlining the background and defining
Appearing to acknowledge the existing license holders as “licensee,” it indicates that the yet to be formed Broadcasting Committee, upon consultation with the
However, ample efforts have been made in configuring the clauses to ensure that the history of our liberation war, language movement, national idealism, culture, citizens’ religious beliefs and political views, agricultural and educational development, child and women rights, etc, receive appropriate weight and significance from the broadcasters.
Nevertheless, the number of
The policy, provision in 4.2.2, bars advertisers from showing comparative
advertisements and claiming superiority over the competitors’ products, even in cases where the
If the comparison
Provisions 4.2.8, 4.3.4 and 4.4.4 are vague, unjustified and are likely to restrain the advertisers’ Freedom of Expression to a great extent. Provision 4.5.4 of the policy further prohibits broadcasting advertisements without prior permission in “applicable matters” but the policy has failed to define or give clarification on the phrase “applicable matters” it has referred to.
The same provision, in addition, requires the advertisers to obtain prior permission and pass the same to the relevant broadcasters. This is likely to cause inconvenience to the advertisers in marketing their products or services and incur further costs that might drive the price of the product or service high, in prejudice to the consumers’ interest. This provision (4.5.4), could also be used by corrupt officials as a tool for bribery.
The policy contains provisions that tend to safeguard the government officials and members of the law enforcement agencies. Some of the provisions are construed in such a manner that they can be used to punish or limit broadcasters intending to expose corruption or unlawful steps taken by the law enforcement agencies and government officials.
This not only strangles the Freedom of Speech but also defeats the purpose of the Right to Information Act (RTI) 2009. It may be pertinent to mention that section 32 (2) and (3) of the RTI Act 2009 allows broadcasting or publishing reports on the eight exempted law enforcement and security agencies on issues related to corruption and violation of human rights.
One of the significant features of the policy is that it prescribes the formation of an independent “broadcasting commission” through a bill, which will be headed by a chairman and
The chairman and members will be appointed by the president upon their
nomination by a search committee yet to be formed by the government. The
The commission, in addition, will receive and adjudicate public complaints, exercise Suo Moto power to issue show cause notice, conduct inquiry, take disciplinary action and forward recommendations to the government for taking necessary action.
This, at the very outset, appears to violate the principles of natural justice to the extent that the commission will perform the duty of a complainant, investigator and judge simultaneously. With such diverse role and excessive power, the commission is likely to cease executing its function as an impartial decision maker and ensure procedural fairness. Therefore, the right or legitimate expectations of an individual or entity might be impaired by the decisions taken by the commission.
In addition to the mentioned inconsistencies, the policy appears to be inadequate interms of establishing a nexus between the Ministry of Information, Ministry of ICTand BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission).
The draftsmen would have done better had they considered the dynamics of thebroadcasting industry, which cannot broadcast without obtaining the requiredfrequency assigned by BTRC.
Needless to mention that Broadcasters are subject to the
BTRC assigns frequency or spectrum to the Broadcasters as per the NFAP (National Frequency Allocation Plan) subject to certain terms and conditions, which the Broadcasters need to comply with at all times. It may be noted that violation or
It may be pondered that the introduction of the Broadcasting Commission, will now give birth to an additional regulator for the broadcasting industry to indulge, in addition to obliging to the BTRC.
This will not only bring regulatory uncertainty to the broadcasting sector but also pose
However, the nexus between the regulators is crucial for ensuring coordination within the given sector. What if, the new entrants manage to obtain
Provided that frequency is considered a scarce resource and can be assigned to
Besides, too many licensees operating in the same sector might result in market exit and loss of investment. The condition on the new entrants to pay upfront license fee will create entry barriers and on top of that, may imbalance the level playing field.
It may be noted that the existing broadcasting licensees were not required to pay up front license fees to the Ministry of Information for obtaining NOCs.
It may be asserted that, instead of introducing the policy, it would have been better had the government first formed a committee comprising all relevant stakeholders, and the committee could then have given the mandate to come up with appropriate recommendations for the government to reform and streamline the broadcasting industry in Bangladesh.
SAARC member nation Nepal had followed this approach back in 2006 wherein a commission
The Broadcasting Policy 2014, by and large, appears more like a guideline for regulating content than a concrete policy that is usually adopted keeping flexibility, neutrality
Critical matters like addressing the licensing issues involved in IP TV/ broadcasting, removal of the
It may show empathy to the concerns raised, and may however accommodate the recommendations poured from the relevant sections of the citizens, to convert the initiative into a remarkable success.