New Delhi: Ministry of information and broadcasting officials say they are surprised by the media criticism against changes made in the rules on uplinking and downlinking television channels approved on Friday by the Union cabinet.
The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA), which represent the interests of television news channels in India, are particularly upset by the modification in the policy guidelines that allows the government to revoke licences after five violations of the programming code.
A senior ministry official said the argument was baseless given that such policies—to revoke programmes and channels—are already part of both the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, as well as the earlier policy guidelines on uplinking and downlinking TV channels.
Under the existing guidelines, three violations under the Programme and Advertising Codes can lead to the “revocation of permission and prohibition of broadcast for the remaining period of the permission and disqualification to hold any fresh permission in future”.
“We have given a long rope to the existing broadcasters and newer companies; instead of the earlier three, we will now give five chances,” said this official. He refused to be identified since he wasn’t authorized to speak with the media.
According to the existing uplinking and downlinking guidelines, companies are supposed to comply with the Programme and Advertising Codes, as laid down in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Moreover, broadcasting firms are also supposed to keep a record of the content that they air for 90 days and produce it, if required, before the government and also allow for “monitoring of programmes or content by the representatives of the ministry of information and broadcasting”.
Under the “offences and penalty” clauses of the guidelines for uplinking and downlinking, the government can revoke the licence for 30 days or less in the first instance and 90 days or less in the second before deciding to revoke the licence if deemed necessary.
To be sure, the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, states that authorized officers, including district magistrates, sub-divisional magistrates, commissioners of police and any other officer notified by the central government, have the power to prohibit the transmission of certain programmes in public interest.
Currently, the Act has an inter-ministerial committee, comprising senior officials from the defence, home affairs, foreign affairs and women and child welfare ministries, that keeps a tab on the content on news and non-news channels. “The committee will now extend its powers to the guidelines for uplinking and downlinking of TV channels, too,” said the ministry official cited above.
According to the new amendments in the guidelines, five violations by a channel—both existing and new—give the government the power to revoke or suspend its licence. NBA has termed the proposed modification as “a direct assault on the self-regulatory regime put in place by broadcasters”. BEA said the proposed norm should be withdrawn to prevent the association from raising the issue at other forums.
For its part, information and broadcasting ministry officials say the industry is blowing the issue out of proportion. According to another senior ministry official, the industry is growing, with several firms awaiting approval for their television channels.
“Not all of these channels will be associated with these self-regulatory bodies,” said the official, who didn’t want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Even currently, not all television channels—particularly smaller regional ones—are associated with these self-regulatory bodies. It’s critical that the government governs the industry to some extent, at least.”
The ministry official cited at the beginning of the story said the government encouraged self-regulation and hadn’t so far banned any channel. “We had ordered temporary suspension of Fashion TV for 14 days last year. Last year, though we had sent a show-cause notice to Colors for showing Bigg Boss, they took a stay order and continued showing the programme,” said the official.