India seeks U.K. input on regulatory body

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NEW DELHI -- India and the U.K. could share views on broadcast regulation considering that the industry here is in the midst of a debate on how to introduce an independent regulatory authority (HR 7/24). The issue was among the discussions at the third India Digital Networks Summit in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The one-day seminar was organized by Hong Kong-based media consultancy Media Partners Asia and Mumbai-based industry portal IndianTelevision.com, which featured David Currie, chairman of U.K. broadcast regulatory body Ofcom, as an opening speaker. Currie said it was "a fascinating time in India given the overall economic growth and opportunities on offer."

"We would like to learn from Ofcom on how to regulate issues such as digital convergence given that this is common to both India and the U.K.," said Rajiv Choubey, the broadcast and cable adviser for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Information & Brodcasting Secretary Asha Swarup reiterated the government's consideration of establishing the BRAI (Broadcast Regulatory Authority) of India as part of the proposed Broadcast Bill, which addresses other issues such as foreign investment limits and content regulation.

Currie said that managing radio spectrum and the switch to digital from analog also is a common issue. "In fact, today we will be switching off a portion of analog terrestrial services in the U.K. to make way for digital as part of our target to phase out all analog spectrum by 2012 to release more digital bandwidth," Currie said.

While avoiding any direct suggestions for India, Currie said that "sometimes one size doesn't fit all" when it comes to issues like content or price regulation.

In January, the U.K.'s Channel Five was hauled up by Ofcom after a controversy was sparked off on "Big Brother" when its eventual winner, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, faced racial discrimination from fellow contestants.

Also discussed was raising foreign investment limits in broadcasting. "The TRAI has recently recommended to the government to raise foreign investment limits to 74% in broadcasting to be at part with telecom," Choubey said.

Currently, foreign investment is restricted to 25%-45% in various broadcasting areas.

Former Star India CEO and now consulting director of new venture Inx TV Peter Mukerjea said: "The U.K. has 2,000 channels, while India has about 300. With about 75 million cable homes, I think we are still at half the market potential, so issues like digitization and foreign investment need to be speeded up."
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