Sunday, 21 September 2008

Need for a Firm Regulatory Body for Television Content

Regulation of content has become most contentious issue these days. The issue comes up in every forum where I & B officials and broadcasters meet. News channels raised a lot of dust during the panel discussion in News Television Summit last month where the new I & B Secretary, Mrs Sushma Singh was also present. The broadcasters just not want any government regulations. Mrs Singh observed that the content code had to be at par with the changing times. She informed that the Centre is having a fresh look at the content code for television programmes since the current code was outdated. Referring to the opposition of the content code from private news broadcasters, she said, “Instead of opposing it, they should discuss the matter with the government.” 
Mrs Singh emphasized on the need for the entertainment and media sector to have an independent body to regulate content. She said that with more than 60,000 cable operators vying with one another in distribution of content, a strong mechanism to monitor local content was the need of the hour.
Sh. P B Sawant, former Chairman, Press Council of India has also rightly observed that in a democracy, no institution whose activities have a bearing on the public interest can be unaccountable to the people. 
In India, we have about 400 TV channels and no regulations to control their activities. With the uncontrolled and unlimited power in their hands, they have been crossing the limits of the ‘freedom of speech and expression’ very often, succumbing to the pressures of the commercial interests. Only last month three well known channels were given warnings by the Ministry for violations of the programming code. A number of advertisements have been pulled off for obscenity and suggestive presentations.
Where do we draw the line of control and who will draw this line, are important questions. The broadcasting fraternity, all this time has been harping on NO Government interference in their job and want the right to exercise self regulations. Unfortunately this talk has been going on since 1996 when the first version of the Broadcasting Bill was being drafted. Also, no one objected to the Cable Act of 1995 laying full responsibility of adhering to the programming code and advertising code on thousands of cable operators, a number of whom would not know how to spell obscenity. Why were the broadcasters not carrying on self regulations for all these years? The broadcasting bill is still in the shelves of the Ministry. Last year the matter of content regulations had come up for discussions when there were rampant violations of the programming code, particularly by the News Broadcasters in order to grab more TRPs to fight the competition amongst 80 odd news channels. Before the government came up with some kind of strict regulations on the subject, the news broadcasters hurriedly formed an association, News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and assured the government that they would come up with their self regulation code very soon.
Perhaps, this was the best way to divert government’s attention for the time being. In any case, we are going to have the elections next year and all political parties would like to be on the better side of the news broadcasters. So, now the matter may not be talked at all in the government quarters. In the mean time the NBA has also announced it would set up a nine-member body headed by former Chief Justice of India Mr. J.S. Verma to redress disputes over news broadcasting standards. The body will have the power to impose a fine of Rs. 1 lakh for violation of decided standards of the association. The NBA-an association of 13 major broadcasters-held that any censuring by this jury will adversely affect the credibility of the news broadcaster. 
Not withstanding the above, it has to be seen how this body of 13 broadcasters would control the actions of so many other news broadcasters who are not the member of NBA.
Let us hope we really have a regulated cotent from the broadcasters in the near future.


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