Any restriction has to be followed up with options to meet viewer expectations
It should have happened years ago when an official notification made it mandatory for only clean feed broadcasting of foreign channels by cable operators. The unfair advantage advertising gave to products sold in Bangladesh side-tracking tax, promoting messages irrelevant to Bangladeshi viewers has long been a bane to the local manufacturers, agencies, and private television owners.
A previous attempt to block specific channels broadcasting from India was tried and failed. Matters had come to such a fore that producers that decided to join the group also began advertising on these channels till their wings were clipped.
The argument at the time was that India refused to allow reciprocal broadcasts of all TV broadcasts from Bangladesh on the same ground of advertising advantage. The broad letters of definition written when tobacco advertising was still permissible in Bangladesh doesn’t hold good any more; it hasn’t for years. Several discussions at government levels has resulted only in telecast and broadcast of the official government media, BTV, Doordarshan, and Bangladesh Betar programs on specific days and at specific times.
BTV World is also free to air broadcasts that don’t go anywhere near the popularity of Indian channels for their movies, drama, and even news.
International channels such as BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and Sports channels have planned their broadcasts aimed at the sub-continent in a way so as to encourage advertisers of countries. India jumped on the bandwagon with promotional content of goods, services, tourism, and much more. It compounded Bangladesh’s headaches mainly due to the product, services, and calls for investment by countries outside of the region.
Greece promoted its tourism, as did India. Japan used the channels heavily for the Olympics and tourism. The return on investment mathematics didn’t, barring India, have Bangladesh or others in mind as a target audience. The popular telecast of Indian Premier League T-20 tournament was appropriately hyped up to garner viewership, thereby creating the attractiveness of advertising.
In between the popularity of especially soap operas has led to an acceptability of such channels, so much so that there are viewers that are miffed. Most of these dramas are hemmed in with religious belief, thereby able to influence young minds. In the 1980s, when Indian TV was way behind in development, Indian policy-makers were shocked when school-children named our president as theirs. Local artistes were recognizable on the streets of Kolkata.
It’s far different now, as regulatory guidelines were loosened and full creativity was unleashed. Indian films and drama are careful to thread in religious themes in their script, screenplay, and music to meet with viewer approbation. A similar approach in Bangladesh is missing and would have been met with a flurry of outrage from the secular voices.
The impact, particularly on impressionable minds, has been significant, bringing with it visible changes to various aspects of social and cultural fabric. The latest government move to prevent advertising loaded foreign content is ostensibly more focused on the commercial aspect. The cultural engineering side of it hasn’t been mentioned. The effect of such a bar on the more international channels certainly has a commercial ring to it.
Private channel owners are firm in their opinion. If a viewer wishes to pay and be exposed to such advertising, well and good. That’s what the viewer does when subscribing to cable operators. It includes local channels. Channel owners have lived up to the governments’ persuasion of telecasting using Bangabandhu-1 satellite.
As it is, another recent decision of charging a premium tax on advertising featuring foreign models has also come into force. Preventing local manufacturers from advertising in foreign media, particularly India, was designed to prevent illegal money transfer no matter that those products are also exported to that country.
It’s not an unusual measure. Governments around the world have fined Amazon and Google for not paying applicable taxes for products sold to consumers in different countries. Similar is the case with advertising on social media. Slow as it may have been, Google and Facebook have now begun paying taxes. The loopholes still exist. They will.
What’s important is that a beginning is made.
The clean feed debate will drag on. What should come with it is measures to prevent cultural aggression that is clearly designed to influence thoughts. Any restriction has to be followed up with options to meet viewer expectations. Quality and production standards of local movies and dramas have to go beyond that currently dished out.
The obsession with past literary themes and unwillingness to embrace the more current trends is part of the muddle that must be dealt with. Whether through state patronage or philanthropic organizations, food alone won’t do the trick. Food for thought is where most of the answers lie.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.