B4U is one of the world’s leading broadcasters of Bollywood films and music and, like the hero in a typical Bollywood plot, the company’s head of legal Rina Barua is on a mission. Barua wants to change the way the broadcast industry regulates ethnic cultures for a more accurate portrayal of multi-cultural Britain. There might be less singing, fighting and dancing than in a film, but her crusade is still likely to be dramatic.
“There is not a single presence from the Asian broadcast industry on the Ofcom board. You might be very well versed in the rules but you must understand the content,” says Barua.
Pleased as she is to see the first Asian couple in Coronation Street, Barua would like to see more Asian content on television, other than just those produced by the Goodness Gracious Me posse. Content is one thing, but Barua’s real mission is to reform the regulator.
“Since joining B4U in 2000, I have had to explain Asian content to the ITC [now Ofcom]. Asian content was very new to the regulators. It always got more complaints so Asian viewers seemed very sensitive and the regulators were very strict with Asian broadcasters. I think mainstream channels, such as Channel Five, got away with murder and Asian channels were more restricted,” says Barua.
She has explained the psychological, cultural and social background of Asian viewers to the regulators to help them understand why Asian audiences react to certain content in certain ways and also to help them understand where Asian content is aimed.
One example is Ofcom’s attitude to Bollywood fight scenes. If you have yet to experience the wonders of Bollywood, these are more like a ballet than a proper punch-up. Most Bollywood films will contain a fight between the hero and the villain as part of the story, but B4U has been asked to remove these scenes before the 8pm watershed (pay TV has an 8pm watershed as opposed to 9pm on terrestrial channels). But the average episode of EastEnders – screened at 7.30pm – will show far worse.
The problem extends to other aspects of Asian culture. Asian channels were cautioned against carrying adverts or programmes on astrology except as entertainment. Barua objects: “Indian astrology is often perceived as mumbo-jumbo, or as an occult art by UK regulators, when in fact it is a science studied at university in India. In my view the regulators have taken a very unfair position.”
Barua joined B4U in 2001 as its first lawyer. She had been the head of litigation at one of India’s largest firms, Singhania & Co, until she transferred to the UK to lead the firm’s London office. B4U was launched in 1999 by three well-known Indian businessmen – Lakshmi Mittal, the billionaire owner of Mittal Steel, Kishore Lulla, a distributor of Bollywood films in the UK, and industrialist Gokul Binani.
The channel’s success in the UK encouraged it to set up shop in the US and the United Arab Emirates before launching in India in May 2000. The company’s two channels, B4U Movies and B4U Music, an Indian version of MTV, are now available in more than 100 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. The company claims to have 52 million viewers across the globe.
The company had never felt the need for an in-house lawyer before Barua joined. Bollywood was not highly regulated, but the company was growing fast with contracts all over the world. One of the most pressing matters for Barua after joining was protecting the B4U trademark. An unconnected company had the B4U name already registered, but in a completely different class, but when Barua’s company became more successful, the other company tried to register in classes such as entertainment, which obviously was the new B4U’s domain.
Barua enlisted the help of Field Fisher Waterhouse for a mighty battle that went all the way to the High Court in October 2003 before settling. The trademark remains quite difficult to defend. Companies may have B4 or 4U registered and Barua has to judge whether they are passing off. But these days the company is more comfortable with its intellectual property and Barua now manages the trademark portfolio in-house.
The only firm she uses regularly nowadays is Harbottle & Lewis, which advises B4U on a range of media-related matters. These are, apparently, top secret, but most likely include the rollout of B4U content on services such as mobile phones.
The technological revolution in the media and the growth of the company means that Barua’s role is evolving all the time. She currently has the support of a paralegal in the UK and two lawyers in Mumbai. At the same time, one of the US business heads is a lawyer and Barua’s boss, global chief executive officer Sunil Rohra, is also a qualified lawyer.
“From a purely in-house legal role, it has become more commercial because of the amount of agreements to be signed. The lobbying side of it has happened more by accident than design. I keep reinventing my role,” says Barua.
And while the ITC has reinvented itself as Ofcom, she feels it can go a lot further in assisting broadcasters that want to cater to the Asian community or indeed other ethnic groups. “In light of what happened with the London bombs this is even more important,” Barua says. “There is very little on the BBC that caters to the needs and interests of the Asian population. Integration is a need of the day.”
Head of legal
|Head of legal||Rina Barua|
|Reporting to||Chief executive officer, Sunil Rohra|
|Main law firms||Harbottle & Lewis|