This article is written by Bhavyika Jain of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article is about the latest amendments made by the government in the Cable Television Network Rules.
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When the Cable Television Network Rules have not formed the broadcasting in India was totally dependent on the state. In the early 1990’s, when cable and television were on the verge of emergence, the Indian government was still not prepared for the same. The government was not able to control the television broadcasts and the airing which was done by the foreign satellites.
It was first observed by the Rajasthan High Court that there is a need for a license to operate the cable networks in the case of Shiv Cable T.V. System vs. State of Rajasthan (1993) where the District Magistrate held a ban on the cable networks as they were operated without the license wherein the order was challenged in the Rajasthan High Court on the ground of violation of fundamental right to profess any trade and profession. The High Court stated that there was no violation of the fundamental right as the cable networks fall within the definition of “wireless telegraph apparatus” under the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and therefore it is a mandate to have a license to carry out the work of the cable operator. This led to the enactment of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
All about the Cable Television Networks Act
In the digital era, cable television is the topic of discussion everyday. There has been a mushrooming of satellite telecom companies everywhere throughout the nation. The legislation for cable television networks was introduced to ensure consistency in their operation. The law seeks to control the innumerous TV stations in the country and bring them under the ambit of law. The purpose of the Act was to regulate the operations and the content present in the rules of the cable network because satellite communication made the transmissions from the foreign television networks available.
As the Western culture was portrayed through them, the foreign television networks were regarded as a “cultural invasion”. It also wanted to lay out the “responsibilities and obligations in terms of service quality, both technically and content-wise, the use of copyright-protected materials, the exhibition of uncertified films, and the protection of subscribers from anti-national broadcasts from sources hostile to national interests.” In Rules 6 and 7 of the Cable Television Network Rules,1995 the Programme and Advertising Codes have been outlined which are required by every broadcaster to follow and act accordingly.
The introduced modifications to the Cable Television Network Rules, 1995 were made on June 17, 2021. A three-tier grievance redressal procedure has been established by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. According to a government release, the new laws that are formed through the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021 will force “accountability and responsibility on the broadcasters and their self-regulating bodies”. The “statutory mechanism” that has been proposed under the amended rules exactly matches with the three levelled redressal mechanism of Information Technology Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, to ensure strict compliance with these codes.
What are the amendments made?
The amended rules include some provisions that have allowed the central government to hand over an opportunity to the cable operator to explain himself and state his side of the story but that too in the case if it can be believed that the Program Code or the Advertising Code has been breached by the broadcaster. In this case, the Central Government can then “prohibit the transmission or re-transmission” of the channel or programme in question.
A three levelled redressal mechanism has been introduced through this amendment which includes:
- Self-regulation by the broadcasters.
- Self-regulating bodies of the broadcaster.
- An oversight mechanism by the Centre.
Self-regulation by the broadcasters
A complaint can be filed by any viewer alleging a violation of the Advertising and Programming Codes, and which has to be resolved within 15 days itself. A proper redress system and an officer should be appointed by the broadcaster to resolve the issue. The officer will work on behalf of the broadcaster as the “point of contact” for all the complaints filed and will try to interact with the complainants so that the issue can be resolved as early as possible. The broadcaster would also be expected to make contact information for its redress process and nodal redress officer available on an appropriate interface.
Then, the broadcasters are required to keep a record of the content for a minimum period of 90 days after it gets published so that if the need arises it can be requisitioned by the government. Also, they are required to acknowledge the receipt of a complaint within the time period of 24 hours of its receipt.
Self-regulation bodies of the broadcasters
If the complainant is not satisfied with the broadcaster’s decision on the complaint made by them or the case is not resolved,he may approach the self-regulatory bodies and make an appeal before them. The self-regulatory bodies have a time period of 60 days to deal with the complaint and make their advice on the matter.
The appeals will be heard by the Inter-Departmental Committee which is established under the oversight mechanism chaired by the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and will also have representatives from the Ministries of Women and Child Development, Home Affairs, Electronics and Information Technology, Defense, and External Affairs and will also include representatives from other ministries and organizations which may also include the experts assigned by the Centre.
An oversight mechanism by the Centre
The third tier is not only made for hearing appeals but also has the authority to make references of the complaints to the Centre. An Inter-Ministerial Committee is formed to address the concern of the citizens if the upper two-tier fails to resolve the issue within the stipulated time. The interdepartmental committee will require a representative from each ministry, ranging from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to the Ministry of External Affairs. The Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will be the chairperson and will also include other representatives from different ministries.
An investigation can be made against the complaint that has been filed and can be referred to the Inter-Departmental committee so that it can be referred to the Centre and a warning or apology can be issued or the broadcaster can be made liable. A warning card or a disclaimer can be involved for the content to be deleted or modified or the decision can include putting the programme off the air for some time till the matter is resolved. The recommendations and suggestions can be made by the Committee but the real power to make decisions vests in the hands of the government.
Difference between the two regulations
The earlier Act i.e. Cable Television Network Act, 1995 aimed at regulating the content and operation of cable networks. The ‘haphazard mushrooming’ was regulated through this Act. Under this Act, the district magistrates, sub-divisional magistrates and police commissioners were the ones who were considered as the authorized officers and had the responsibility to ensure that the breach of the Programme Code does not take place. Unless the worker was registered as a cable operator under the Act, he was not allowed to work. It was mandatory to transmit the programmes of any channel to be in an encrypted form whenever the Centre asked the cable operator to do so and whoever does not follow the Act accordingly shall be punished. The authorised officers were given the powers to prohibit the transmission of any channel they wish to if it is in the public interest or it promotes disharmony or hatred between different religions, castes, communities, linguistic or racial groups. The Parliament was given the power, if it is in the public interest, to prohibit the operation of cable television networks.
The latest amendment has witnessed some changes. Now, the Act has various regulating bodies to address the issues raised by the complainant and different levels have been formed to address the same. Self-regulating bodies such as the News Broadcasters Standards Authority (NSBA) and Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) have been given legal recognition. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has granted permission to over 900 television channels. The recent amendment has opened a path to create a strong institutional system that will be there for redressing grievances while accountability and responsibility are placed upon the broadcasters and their self-regulating bodies. This will help the television’s self-regulatory mechanism to be at par with the OTT platforms and digital news publishers as are mentioned in the Information Technology(Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The Israeli government has established the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting and the Second Authority for Television and Radio, with the objective of bringing the Telecom industry under the legal framework. The Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting and the Second Authority for Television and Radio regulate two commercial television channels and a couple of commercial radio channels. There has been an initiative by the Israeli Government under the supervision of the Minister of Communications to merge the two authorities into a single independent entity responsible for broadcasting by introducing a piece of legislation.
Broadcasters of telecom services can neither demand a share of fees nor a guaranteed terrestrial distribution without a license from The Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM). Broadcasters of program services of relatively low editorial importance do not fall under the scope of the Federal Act on Radio and Television(RTVA) and therefore can operate without a license or registration. The number of licenses issued to a broadcaster and the companies associated with it is limited to a maximum of two television and two radio licenses with the sole exception of the Swiss Broadcasting Company (SBC). The selection criteria of several candidates for one license is performance-based. Promotion of diversity of opinion and offerings are also considered in the case of equivalent candidates. The Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) often grants licenses to independent applicants that do not belong to a media group already possessing another broadcasting license.
In China, the media is heavily regulated and the important regulators are the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) and the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP), established in 2018. Different types of licenses are required in China according to the programme and the medium through which they are transmitted. A permit is required by the broadcasters for the cable television programme along with a certificate of approval from the NRTA.
Role of the rules
According to the government, these news rules would ensure transparency in the statutory mechanism which would ultimately benefit the citizens as all the self-regulating bodies of the broadcasters will be registered under the Central government. It will also place accountability and responsibility on the broadcasters and their self regulating bodies.
Impact of the rules
On May 26, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has asked all the OTT platform players, digital news publishers, and the traditional news platforms to disclose all the details about their companies to check whether it has been in accordance with the new guidelines issued in the time period of 15 days. To this various digital platforms have put an objection to furnishing the details calling it a violation of the Information Technology Act and the constitutional guarantee of media freedom and some of them have already furnished the government with the details of their companies.
The Act governing the theme of cable television networks had established a grievance redressal framework. This grievance redressal mechanism has resulted in the voicing of concern over several issues. FIR’s have been filed against the OTT platforms and content creators. The Act envisions the aim of the legislature to reduce the number of such complaints from 300 to a negligible minimum.
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