In this article, Preetham Kumar J pursuing Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata discusses on how television content is regulated in India
“The television is unique in a way in which intrudes into our homes. The combination of picture and voice makes it an irresistibly attractive medium of presentation. It has tremendous appeal and influence over millions of people. Television is shaping the food habits, cultural values, social mores and what not of the society in a manner no other medium has done so far….”, said the Supreme court in a landmark judgement on “airwaves” in the 90’s. The cable TV revolution of the 90’s like all other revolutions before it presented us with the proverbial “double-edged sword” situation where with the good, it also brought the bad which had to be checked.
The Need for Regulation
In 2017, the TV-owning homes in India increased from 153.5 million to 183 million. Interestingly, the number of rural households owning TV is 17 per cent more than urban households. One of the major reasons attributed to this growth in TV sets is the increasing number of nuclear families without elders than ever before. Given the low levels of literacy in India in general and rural India in particular, the excess influence of TV has to be regulated. Unlike the movies, where the demand side i.e. the audience is filtered before entering into the movie hall, no such mechanism exists in case of Television, hence there is a need to filter the supply side i.e. the content before it can be transmitted.
How is the content on Television regulated?
Presently, the content on television is regulated in multiple ways which range from statutory regulation to self-regulation. However, in India, there are on an average two new channels launched every month and a new show is launched every third day. Also, there are about 800 channels in India across more than 20 languages. A single monolithic regulatory mechanism is impossible to supervise and regulate the content of this magnitude. Hence, the content is classified to facilitate better regulation.
How is the content on Television classified?
The content on TV is broadly classified as follows-
- Non-news and Current affairs(entertainment)
- News and Current affairs
- Films on Television.
Each of the above categories is regulated by statutes and self-regulatory codes supervised by statutory and self-regulated bodies.
Non-news and Current affairs TV channels
The content or “programs” on these channels are regulated by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 which consists of a program code and the advertising code which all content transmitted or retransmitted on television must adhere to. The Program and the advertising codes are collectively called “codes” and are mentioned in the Cable Television Networks (Rules), 1994.
The Program code largely regulates the content that should be shown on TV which includes content that may violate various statutes. For example, the program code prohibits airing any content that may not be suitable for public viewing which may be otherwise prohibited under the Cinematograph Act, 1952. This code also prevents the airing of content that may be in contravention of prevalent the public policy such as obscenity, communal disharmony etc.
The Advertising code, on the other hand, regulates the content that can be advertised and prohibits advertising of those content that is in violation of public morality and decency and any other content that can create social disharmony etc.
The above codes are enforced by the following bodies-
The Inter-Ministerial Committee(IMC)
This is a committee constituted by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and looks into violations of any of the above codes and reports it to the MIB accordingly for various actions. A case in point was about NDTV India which was taken off-air by the MIB for a day due to violations of code that was not followed while reporting the terrorist encounter in Kashmir.
Electronic Media Monitoring Centre(EMMC)
This is another body established by the MIB to monitor the content of various TV channels for any violations of the above codes or statutes such as the Cable Act etc. The EMMC after finding any violations reports it to the Inter-ministerial committee for further action.
State-level and District-Level Monitoring Committees
There are monitoring centres established at the district and the state levels. The District level monitoring committees are authorized to decide on any local content violating the code. In case of National level content violations, the district level committees may forward the complaints to the IMC through the state level committees.
All of the above-mentioned bodies are bodies of the state that have been constituted under certain statutory provisions. However, to ensure the independence of the media, a self-regulating provision has also been acknowledged by the state. To that end, an Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has been formed to form guidelines for regulating all content on TV across all forms of transmission viz cable, terrestrial, DTH, IPTV etc. The IBF has adopted Self-Regulation Guidelines and Content Code and Certification Rules, 2011, which are applicable to all non-news broadcast programs on TV. The IBF has also established a Broadcast Content Complaints Council (BCCC), which receives complaints on any particular content broadcast on television. The complaint has to be filed with the BCCC within 14 days of the first broadcast. Apart from this, the BCCC can also initiate suo-moto proceedings against any particular content broadcast on television.
News and Current Affairs TV channels
These are the most sensitive regulatory topics on TV. Unlike the Press Club of India, which is a statutory body for regulating newsprint content, there is no statutory regulatory body to regulate content for the News channels in India. This has been a point of much debate as the news broadcasters invoke the freedom of fair and free media in a democracy is essential whereas the people on the other side advocate for some form of regulation as no institution is above law. For the moment, there is no statutory regulatory mechanism and the News and the Current Affairs TV channels in India are regulated by a self-regulatory body known as the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) which has formulated a standards code known as the NBA Code.
The NBA has also laid down news broadcasting standards regulation as an industry standard and also constituted under it News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) for disputes adjudication and to enforce the NBA code.
With increasing TV viewership by the day, the Advertisement(Ad) revenue has become a very lucrative option for all the channels. However, the content of these advertisements has to be monitored. There is no statutory provision or body to regulate the ad content in India. Hence, a self-governing body called the Advertising standards council of India (ASCI) has been formed to regulate the ad content in India. The Asci has prescribed an ASCI code to which all the Ad content in India has to adhere to.
Films on Television
The Cinematograph Act,1952 provides for the establishment of a central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) which has to certify films for public exhibition. Exhibition of any film without the certificate of the CBFC is illegal. Based on the content of the films, the CBFC awards a certificate to the films which range from unrestricted public viewing(“U”) to restricted to adult viewing (“A”). Hence, any film, song or promo of a film can be aired on TV only after it has been certified by the CBFC for unrestricted public viewing. Any content awarded an “A” certificate cannot be aired on TV.
State Broadcasting Network- Doordarshan
After the advent of the cable TV and the deluge of the private channels and broadcasters, there is still a state broadcaster known as the Broadcasting Corporation of India popularly known as the Prashar Bharathi established under the Prashar Bharthi (PB) Act, 1990. The primary aim of the Prashar Bharthi is to conduct public broadcasting services to inform, educate and entertain the public and to ensure a balanced development of broadcasting on TV. The PB Act also provides for the establishment of a Broadcasting Council to receive any complaints with respect to content aired on these channels.
There has been a raging debate across the globe as to the role of the state in controlling the media. The advocates of free media aver that an independent media is a sine qua non for a sustainable democracy, the advocates of the state say that any institution with unbridled freedom will lead to the creation of a Frankenstein monster. While both sides are right, there has to be a line drawn to distinguish between regulation and censorship. But the question is can we actually draw such a line? With the advent of fake news and the repercussions it has, the state is not wrong in pushing for censorship where required, especially in cases of national security or “alleged” national security reasons. But, if once such powers are given to the government can they be taken back? Also on the other side, there has been an alarming rise of corruption in the media and some deliberate attempts to influence opinions at the behest of vested interests. Who, then should be the sentinel of free, fair and independent media? The answer cannot be in the binary as all of us are stakeholders in it. Thus a combination of statutory and self-regulating bodies is the best way to protect the freedom of the content across all media, where India has made a start and has a long way to go.