Refusal of Indian access to Bangladeshi TV channels
Indian government has put a tight-fisted ban on Bangladeshi television channels from entering Indian cable networks. But Bangladesh has a very liberal policy in allowing Indian channels. Writes Omar Khasru
During the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s March 2006 New Delhi visit, her counterpart, Manmohon Singh, in his welcome address, said, ‘Both countries have rich intellectual traditions and we must promote greater interaction. It is a matter of satisfaction that today we are able to see Bangladeshi TV channels in India and I understand that they give our local channels stiff competition.’
It sounds great except Indian audiences are unable to watch Bangladeshi TV channels even today, as they were then, because these are officially denied access. We in Bangladesh, on the other hand, are able to watch dozens of mainly Hindi, but also Bangla channels from neighbouring West Bengal.
Bangladeshi channels are unfairly denied right of entry in West Bengal and rest of India. It is unclear, also perplexing and bewildering, as to why the Indian Prime Minister spoke of viewing Bangladeshi TV channels in 2006 because these channels were not available in India back then and not even now.
That is the crux of the matter and the bone of contention with a lack of level playing field. Our government allows unrestricted entry to Indian TV channels, some with dreadful programs that delve into capricious and convoluted, fancy and fantasy shows with no link with reality or native culture and tradition.
Repeated and painstaking attempts by TV channels here to get a foothold in Indian market have been ignored, shelved, disapproved and have fallen into deaf Indian ears or have fallen by the wayside. That is matched by the inability of our officials to take any countervailing actions and failure to induce the big neighbour to act in a fair, just and even-handed manner.
When the Indian vice president M Hamid Ansari met opposition leader Khaleda Zia in May 2011 during his Dhaka visit to attend Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary observance, she urged that border killing by Indian security forces should stop right away and ‘India needs to resolve outstanding issues with Bangladesh for sustained, improved relations’ (bdnews24.com).
Khaleda Zia emphasised that Bangladeshi products should be allowed greater Indian market access to reduce the gaping trade deficit, water sharing issues should be settled equitably and Bangladeshi TV channels should be permitted viewing in India. In a nutshell, she touched on all the vital and pressing issues.
Isn’t it peculiar that when our leaders are in the opposition, they say the right things in a more rational manner than when they are in power? When in power, they become strangely reticent, tepid, vapid and timid in attaining rightful and deserving facilities, privileges and provisions for the country from others in inverse proportion to their aggression, repression and semi-fascism at home.
In the case of our behemoth neighbour, in addition to timidity and ineptitude of our policymakers and negotiators, the Indian attitude of grab and take instead of give and take, and an insidious and uninhibited display of power and authority have been major obstacles in reaching fair settlements in unresolved and pivotal problems. This is true for Teesta water sharing and choice of Indian viewers to watch Bangladeshi TV channels, and everything in between.
As for the unfair treatment of Bangladeshi TV channels, ministers periodically express concern at Indian intransigence and inequity. Information and Cultural Affairs Minister Abul Kalam Azad said on January 22, 2011 that the government had taken initiative to obtain Indian entry. ‘The matter would be implemented soon under the cultural exchange agreement,’ he said (banglanews24.com).
In January this year, the minister reiterated that the government had broached the topic with Indian top brass. ‘Hopefully something will come out soon,’ he said (Daily Star, January 9). The lingering and pervasive question is: how soon is soon? We seem to be going through the same rigmarole over and over again.
Despite repeated pledges by Indian authorities, including Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, government of India has shown persistent aversion towards allowing Bangladeshi TV channels to enter the national cable network in India. The staunch reluctance is both longstanding and entrenched.
When the issue of allowing Bangladeshi TV channels into Indian market was raised in the Parliamentary Committee in December 2011 soon after Manmohon Singh’s Dhaka visit, the proposal was rejected in the pretext that, ‘Bangladeshi TV channels contain anti-India content and also provocative materials, which would disrupt the internal security of India.’
Minister of Information and Broadcast, Ambika Soni vehemently opposed the proposal of allowing Bangladeshi TV channels in India, saying, ‘Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and policymakers are against the idea of allowing Bangladeshi television channels within Indian cable network’ (Weekly Blitz, December 24, 2011).
When Ambika Soni was reminded that Dr Manmohan Singh had made personal pledge of allowing Bangladeshi TV channels in India and Dr Dipu Moni, Bangladeshi foreign minister, told reporters after her Indian trip that New Delhi has specifically committed to allow Bangladeshi television channels in India, the minister said, ‘no such commitment was ever made.’
A Bangladeshi TV channel owner responded, ‘We never allow any negative propaganda against India. Bangladeshi channels are available on major cable networks in United States, Europe and the Middle East. We never heard any such complaint. This must be a lame excuse of the Indian authorities for stopping Bangladeshi channels from reaching the Indian viewers.’
When a promo for a show is broadcast on a Bangladeshi channel, it mentions the day and time the program will be seen here. It also indicates the time in UAE and the USA. It never mentions the time in India because Indian audiences do not have access to the channel.
Most Indian channel promos, on the other hand, routinely mention Bangladesh time for the telecast of the show. It clearly implies that not only the channel is available here but there also is a sizeable Bangladeshi audience for it.
Indian government has put a tight-fisted ban on Bangladeshi television channels from entering Indian cable networks. But Bangladesh has a very liberal policy in allowing Indian channels. The Indian channels earn significant revenue, selling advertisements as well as subscription to entrepreneurs and households here.
According to statistics published in Weekly Blitz last year (June 11, 2011) Indian channels earn millions of dollars from Bangladesh. Here is the partial list of monthly revenue earned by popular Indian channels from Bangladesh:
In the midst of this one-sided and lopsided brisk business of Indian TV channels in Bangladesh with no reciprocation or similar opportunity for our TV channels in India, the Indian High Commission in Dhaka has claimed that there is no legal bar to the down-linking of Bangladeshi television channels in their country.
In a recent press release, the HC stated that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in India has not imposed any restriction on down-linking of Bangladeshi TV channels. It also said that so far no Bangladeshi television channel has approached the ministry seeking permission to downlink their channel in India.
‘If any company is interested in down-linking Bangladeshi channels in India, the ministry would be happy to facilitate them within the ambit of prescribed guidelines,’ the press release said (Financial Express, June 19). In order to downlink a foreign TV channel, an application is required to be submitted to Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through a company registered under Indian Companies Act 1956 and having the prescribed net worth.
This indicates bureaucratic mumbo jumbo with possible delay and aggravation. But there is a lot more. For down-linking the first TV channel Indian Rs 5 crores, for down-linking each additional channels Indian Rs 2.5 crores will be needed. The applicant company should provide names and details of their chairperson and directors, MD, COO, CEO, CTO, CFO, and head of marketing.
The applicant company will need to furnish technical details and demonstrate the facilities for monitoring and storing record for 90 days. The channel being down-linked should be licensed. Additional conditions would apply in the case of news and current affairs channels.
A fee of Rs 10 lakhs has to be paid at the time of granting permission to downlink channels. Apart from this, Rs 15 lakh per year per channel for down-linking channels uplinked from abroad as permission fee for registration would be required (banglanews24.com, June 17).
There is more and in greater details but it gets increasingly tedious, dreary and also infuriating. There is not only an indication of excessive bureaucracy, which may put stringent roadblock every step of the way to impede the process, there ostensibly is also a lot of money involved which is a real deterrent and downer.
This is evident from the comment of the Cultural Affairs Minister, Abul Kalam Azad. He said that he has asked the local TV channels to explore the opportunity of gaining the right of entry into India. But they have to pay some money, which the owners do not agree (Daily Star, January 9).
The relevant questions then are (a) how much bureaucracy did the Indian channels face and endure before they started their business here, (b) how much money did they have to pay, and (c) how many tough conditions did they fulfil. The answers, revealing and profound, may be none or negligible.
The government sanctioned conditions and charges mentioned by the Indian HC seem arbitrary and unique. Perhaps this is time and the right opening to impose same sort of intractable and stern conditions and barriers and collect similar amount of fees from Indian TV channels to offset the thorny conditions and prerequisites and the exorbitant fees imposed on Bangladeshi TV channels.
That would not only be the obvious reprisal but will also play a significant role in alleviating the yawning trade deficit with India and fill the foreign exchange coffers. This country takes no countervailing actions against Indian trade hurdles such as tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Indian border security forces get away with impunity without robust protest even after killing and maiming Bangladeshi citizens. And there is not a pip about Teesta water sharing treaty anymore. Let our government take symbolic counteraction, for a change, in the case of TV channel access to show that biased and antagonistic actions incur a price to pay.
During the Khaled Zia’s 2006 India visit, Manmohon Singh ended his welcome speech with a few immortal lines from a well-known Kazi Nazrul Islam poem, the English translation of which reads:
Striking at the door of dawn, we would usher in a new morning,
We would overcome the dark night and the mountains of obstacles.
That is what Bangladesh metaphorically has to do on most bilateral pressing issues with India, routinely facing tons of impediments and roadblocks. Obtaining possible access of Bangladesh TV channels in the Indian market will be no exception.
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