The complex issue of TV news control in India

While there is a debate on the quality of journalism on news television, the channels continue with their vicious programming: their own parallel investigation into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, as well as a recent presentation on how a minority community is “infiltrating” civil services.

The matter of the show on Sudarshan TV reached the Supreme Court, which heard that Sudarshan TV’s multi-episode show Bindas Bol equated “infiltration” and “jihad” with the inclusion of Muslims in the civil service. Last week, the court ruled that such fabrications could not be allowed in the name of freedom of the press, which is used to abuse a particular community and undermine harmony in the country. A three-judge bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud asked the government to file an affidavit seeking a response on the need to regulate electronic media.

The government had earlier allowed Sudarshan TV to air the show, despite warnings not to violate the programming code intended for television. Television programming and advertising code are prescribed by the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994. It states that cable services should not conduct attacks on religions or communities or any program that contains visuals or words that defy religious groups or promote a religious attitude. It also says not to take anything that has “inundos and half truths”.

In fact, these suggested guidelines have long been thrown out the window by many news channels in the country. News control, especially moderately biased channels, has become very tricky. In 2007, leading news and current affairs channels formed the News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA) to address ethical, operational and regulatory issues facing news channels. Subsequently, it established the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), an independent body to adjudicate on broadcast complaints.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation has followed a similar approach to adjudicating complaints against non-news channels, including entertainment, children’s channels and other communities. It set up the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), an independent self-regulatory body, in 2011. The BCCC worked effectively, but NBSA deteriorated as not all news channels complied with its advice despite complaints.

When Arnab Goswami filed complaints on Republic TV, he formed a new association called the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) along with some regional language news channels. In the case of Sudarshan TV, the NBA requested the Supreme Court to grant recognition to the NBSA. All news channels, regardless of membership, must obey its orders and accept penalties, thereby strengthening the regulatory mechanism.

While self-regulation is paramount for news channels in India, media experts agree that the independent authority to oversee complaints requires legal powers. “The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should have long ago given legal powers to both the BCCC and the NBSA. It would have given the two bodies the necessary teeth. It would have prevented them from splitting into the NBA and encouraged many news channels to join the board,” an industry leader declined to name.

After the government recognized the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and its grievance redressal body, even non-ASCI advertisers heard its verdicts. “Those who are not satisfied with their verdict can go to court, but every time the court refuses to intervene in the ASCI judgments,” the executive said. In an affidavit filed with the court, the NBA requested that its code of conduct be included under Rule 6. ‘Program Code’ of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994. According to a report on the Legal News website Livela, the facility for the NBSA mechanism should be changed to the News Channel’s uplink / downlink permission term. A top news TV executive agreed: “All News TV licenses must be signed up in Britain to oversee independent regulatory authority similar to Ofcom (a government – approved regulatory and competitive authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications sector).”

It’s something to chew on.

Shuchi Bansal Mint Media, Marketing and Advertising Editor. The general post looks at issues related to these three. Or things that are fun.

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