The Supreme Court on 29 November 2013 issued notices to the government and media regulatory bodies on a petition seeking regulation of television channels.
A bench headed by chief justice P. Sathasivam issued notices to the ministries of information and broadcasting, law and justice, and information technology in response to an item of public interest litigation (PIL) that sought the court’s intervention to bring TV channels under a regulatory framework.
Filed by a civil society body called Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, the petition claims that while the print media is regulated, there is no regulatory body or censorship for TV channels.
“The channels claim only a self-regulation which has proved to be completely ineffective. The self-regulating bodies...are private companies under control of the media houses” and points to a conflict of interest, the petition states.
Notices were also issued to the Press Council of India (PCI), the Election Commission, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), a grouping of national news channels, and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), which represents the interests of the major entertainment channels.
The NBA and the IBF declined to comment on the PIL as the matter is in the court.
Both the NBA and the IBF have their own regulatory bodies. The regulatory mechanism institutionalized nearly five years ago not only monitors content, but is also equipped to address complaints related to programming.
The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), the operative regulatory regime, follows a code of ethics and standards as well as offers details on the procedure to register complaints. It’s the same with the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), a body of the IBF that keeps an eye on entertainment content. These are self regulatory bodies but have full-fledged teams drawn from all walks of life.
Like the Press Council of India, which is headed by a former chief justice of India, and includes a parliamentarian, other civil society members as well as print media owners and editors, these bodies also have a diverse membership and are not run only by media owners, according to the experts.
The NBSA and the BCCC are both headed by former senior judges and have prominent members from civil society as well as representatives of media owners.
However, these bodies do not have a statutory status right now, but these bodies have applied to the ministry of information and broadcasting for such a status.
Also, while the petition claims “a film that cannot be released without censor certificate can straightway be released on a TV channel”, experts say films can be aired on television channels only if they are certified by the censor board.
The petition also raised doubts over the collection of monetary penalty by the self-regulating bodies, saying the private bodies that regulate TV channels “have a limited power of imposing fine up to Rs.1 lakh, which goes into their own kitty”.
The experts, however, said the NBSA and the BCCC are not-for-profit organizations and fines imposed on channels for non-compliance stay with these regulatory bodies and do not go back to the channels.