Monday, August 22, 2011

Unfair Advantage Via Satellite Channels

The information minister let it be known that efforts are on to enable Indian citizens to view Bangladeshi satellite channels from within every one of its states. It is indeed about time the government applied its mind to this long ignored, less than sound, situation. The fact is, while viewers in Bangladesh are bombarded with all kinds of Indian 'infotainment' -- TV serials, cinemas, talk shows and what-not, with hefty doses of advertisements of consumer products -- via their satellite channels, Bangladeshi TV channels are yet to enjoy similar access to viewers.

Indian as well as foreign companies which advertise on Indian satellite channels have thus been enjoying a great deal of unfair economic advantage. This brings double jeopardy for Bangladesh, hurting the potential of the country's growing advertising industry and other business in general. The products and messages advertised on Indian channels are getting beamed into Bangladeshi homes at no cost at all, and all gain, to themselves. Obviously not even a paisa's worth of revenue comes for Bangladesh from this unilateral 'generosity' towards Indian channels, and those affected in the country have therefore been calling for rationalization of sky-based competition.

The information minister's statement about on-going efforts to do so came in the course of a question-time session in the Jatiya Sangsad last Thursday. An up to date advertising policy is also said to be in the making. It is not known whether the 'jamming' of Bangladesh channels from the Indian side, to prevent easy viewing by its citizens, has anything to do with improving the Bangladesh policy on advertising, but on both counts there is much that needs to be done to put sky-sharing on a fair and healthy footing. The satellite channels of Bangladesh have much potential to charm the bordering states at least, if not the other cosmopolitan expanses of this vast neighbour.

The details of sharing advertisements, revenues and even programmes could surely be worked out for the maximum mutual benefit. The revenue earned from advertising in Bangladesh is estimated to be between Taka 12 billion and Taka 15 billion. Compared to booming India, this may not be anything to write home about, but the growing domestic industry is certainly to be reckoned with. It provides direct jobs and all kinds of spin-offs, and has tremendous potential for further expansion. Earnings via direct advertisements of foreign products through the increasingly sophisticated satellite channels could make a big difference in the sector and this could be facilitated through honest deals with Indian TV companies to share both regional and global opportunities.

As for the expressed intention to improve Bangladesh's advertisement policy, it is hoped the government would take a more enlightened approach than that currently working. Companies must be obliged to take care of the design and content of their messages in order to avoid misleading or harming susceptible viewers and consumers. A case in point is an advertisement for an insecticide that most Indian channels run over and over again. It shows children playing hide and seek with the mother and the latter spraying the product in her hiding place to kill mosquitoes. The smell of the poison, which is shown as being inhaled most joyfully by the players, gave the hideout away! Such moronic messages need to be shot down forthwith and the designers and companies duly penalized, for insecticides can very much kill vulnerable children and must not be deliberately inhaled. These serious aspects ought to be kept in mind when reforming Bangladesh's advertisement policy and when dealing with foreign ads as well.