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An important background note for the Honorable Minister of I & B about the state of the film & TV industry and much-needed reforms

We must create an Indian Film & TV Industry Regulatory Authority (IFTIRA) to free it from its mafia-like working, to encourage fair and equitable business and trade practices, and realize its full domestic and global potential as an engine of the nation’s economic growth.

While we have a mechanism like the CBFC in place to monitor and regulate the content of films and TV programmes (indirectly), we have nothing to regulate the industry itself. Though it was accorded the status of a legitimate industry during the previous NDA regime, very little groundwork was done to monitor its working and growth by building a credible and reliable reporting infrastructure.

Something else happened. Over the years, the industry had built its own systems and mechanisms to run its affairs. Various associations of film professionals worked together and ensured the industry’s near smooth functioning by creating certain universally applicable rules and enforcing them through mutual community consent and cooperation.

There were umbrella organizations that acted as platforms and panchayats for various stakeholders in the business to resolve their disputes without taking recourse to long-drawn legal processes.
This ended after the ill-conceived/advised intervention of the Competition Commission into the industry’s affairs a few years ago. It was surprising that the Commission took keen interest in the affairs of the industry that probably has far less turnover than a medium-sized business house.

That unfortunate intervention made the umbrella organizations and panchayats nearly defunct. So today, if there is a dispute between a producer and a distributor or a producer and an exhibitor or a producer and a broadcaster it can only be resolved through a long-drawn and extremely cumbersome court battle. The industry panchayats have lost their relevance and fiduciary authority to adjudicate disputes and enforce their writ.

It’s jungle raj in the industry today. The mighty lions rule it; the puny goats find it impossible to survive in the resultant mayhem. There are undeclared cartels of broadcasters, exhibitors, and content distributing platforms that hold the entire industry to ransom. They cannot be questioned. And if you question them, you will become a persona non grata within the industry. These cartels and oligopolies don’t play by any rules. The industry is run on their whims and fancies and only the mightiest are welcome here.

In the past few years, the breed of independent producers, distributors, and exhibitors has become nearly extinct. Just a decade ago they drove the Indian Film and TV Industry, unlike elsewhere in the world. It was a healthy competitive environment that gave a chance to rank newcomers who had something different and path-breaking to offer. That’s not possible today.

An independent producer, distributor, and exhibitor cannot survive now. The system, run by a handful of entities, shuts him out. It’s like a Mafia rule. A producer cannot even promote his film. The platforms of promotion, various TV channels and FM radio stations, are effectively monopolized and controlled by a few entities that follow no rules and act arbitrarily.

If there is any industry that needs a regulatory authority, it’s the Film & TV Industry

Since the new government believes in providing equal opportunity for growth to all in a healthy competitive environment, it must create an Indian Film & TV Industry Regulatory Authority (IFTIRA) to ensure the following:

1. Creation of a credible and reliable reporting structure to monitor the turnover and growth of the industry. This will involve the setting up of reporting infrastructure for box office collections and a TV viewership monitoring authority.

2. Creation of an infrastructure and mechanism for dispute settlement among various stakeholders that will act as a government-authorized ‘Panchayat’ with adequate authority to adjudicate and enforce its decisions among various stakeholders.

3. Creation of a watchdog body to keep an eye on industrial malpractices that compromise the competitive environment and discriminate against smaller players through cartels and oligopolies. This body will be authorized to take punitive action against the erring entities.

4. Developing ideas and approaches to ensure further growth of the industry by exploiting its full potential domestically as well as globally by providing necessary inputs to the nation’s policy-makers and planners.

I hope this serves some purpose and provides the Honorable Minister useful insights into the affairs of the Film and TV industry of India.

Rajesh Kumar Singh