Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Petition on TV channel regulation: SC issues notices to govt, media bodies

Petition claims that while the print media is regulated, there is no regulatory body or censorship for TV channels

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday 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.

A. Mohan, president, legal and regulatory affairs, at the Essel Group that runs the Zee channels, said the NBA and the IBF were respondents in the matter and will reply. He said the broadcasters are not worried about the development as the government had endorsed self-regulation even in a previous case.

“Self-regulation has been the stated stand of the government. Besides, the electronic media is outside the purview of PCI," Mohan said.

Media industry experts familiar with the regulatory processes at news and entertainment channels say the PIL has no teeth. None of the complaints raised in the matter are applicable to the Indian broadcasting industry, they said.

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, said the industry experts who didn’t want to be named.

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.

“Unlike the PCI, we do not have a statutory status right now, but these bodies have applied to the ministry of information and broadcasting for such a status. Else their composition is ditto that of PCI that the complainant is extolling," said a person familiar with the development in the apex court.

In the recent past, courts have redirected content complaints coming to them to either the NBSA or the BCCC. “They have asked people to first approach the NBSA and the BCCC with their complaints. That has lent these institutions a lot of credibility," this person said on condition of anonymity.

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 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.