Self regulation has always been the bone of contention between the government and media houses. The government wants to regulate media content to make it suitable for universal audience. Media owners aim to drive revenues through sensationalizing content to draw more viewers from the buying class of the society. They support self-regulation instead of state control. However, as a user, your powers are not restricted to switching over to another TV channel or tune in to another radio station. You can legally file a complaint against media content, which you think is not appropriate.
Independent complaints forum
The Indian television industry is taking steps to regulate itself with the establishment of an independent complaints forum for non-news channels, following recent moves by the government to reschedule TV content deemed unsuitable for universal viewing to post-11pm. According to source the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is to establish a Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) in the next three months, in an effort to self-regulate entertainment and special interest TV channels. According to the report, the BCCC will be similar to the existing News Broadcasting Standards Authority, set up by the News Broadcasters Association. It will be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, with representatives from the industry, academia, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Initially aggrieved viewers would complain to the broadcaster or channel, and then, if their issue remained unresolved, they could then address their complaint to the BCCC.
The Indian Government has backed the idea of self-regulation for electronic media, as long as representatives from ordinary walks of life are properly represented. The selfregulation vehicle being developed stems from a joint task force established earlier this year by the Ministry for I&B and IBF which has been listening to views from members of the public, DTH operators, academics, resident welfare associations, and NGOs. Last month, government disapproval of scheduling of what may be deemed adult content in prime time hit the headlines, when it sought to move the transmission time of Big Boss 4 (India’s version of ‘Big Brother’) and Rakhi ka Insaaf to between 11pm and 5am.
Workshop on self regulation
The two-day workshop on ‘Comparative Perspective on Media Regulation and Society’ got underway in Delhi on December 14, 2010. The first day of the workshop explored international and comparative perspectives on media regulation as it affects current debates and future role of information in society. The first session of the day delved upon the topic of the challenges of implementing selfregulation from the perspective of the Indian Government, industry and academies.
Wider representation needed
The government is in favour of self-regulation for the electronic media provided there is adequate representation of members of civil society, said Information and Broadcasting Ministry additional secretary Rajiv Takru. The government should be able to step in whenever self-regulation fails but only as a last resort, Takru added. Addressing a meet on ‘Comparative Perspectives on Media Regulation and Society’ , he said any self-regulation body has to be fair and transparent, and seem to be so. Therefore, there should be no paid employees of the stakeholders – the broadcasters. He also said the members, or at least the heads of the regulatory body, should work on a rotational basis and their selection should be transparent.
Quick damage control required
Takru expressed the view that self-regulation has to be time bound to ensure quick damage control. The government should be able to step in when such cases occur. The government was, therefore, trying to finalise a mechanism where self-regulation could work effectively, he said. Speaking at the inaugural session, he said self-regulation was the best form of regulation, but commercial considerations and the aim to get more eyeballs often took over. Commercial forces were not conducive to regulation. He said the television rating was being done in just about 8,000 homes in a country of a billion plus population and this was not fair. Answering a question later, he said the government was examining the issue of cross-ownership and monopolisation of the media.
The meet was organised by the University of Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) in collaboration with the National Law University- New Delhi, the National University of Juridical Sciences- Kolkata, and the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, with support from Star India. Jusrice J S Verma, former Chief Justice of India who now heads the News Broadcasting Standards Authority set up by the News Broadcasters Association, said self-regulation showed a realisation of the need for restraint. The freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution was subject to reasonable restrictions. The essence of democracy was to accept even divergent views and appreciation of this fact will not need someone else to regulate others. He said the electronic media needed to be more circumspect, but imposing curbs only leads to more rumour mongering. Self-regulation, in fact, disciplines the channels and they know what should be kept out. Answering a question about the role of the electronic media during the Mumbai attacks on 26 November 2008, he said the advisories prevented the media from going haywire. He said the Authority was working towards a programme to teach media ethics to the media within the next few months in collaboration with some recognised law schools.
TV has greater power than Cinema
Star India chief operating officer Sanjay Gupta said television touches people even more than cinema does. TV created 600 hours of entertainment content and 1000 hours of news content daily, while cinema creates 600 hours in a whole year. He said greater power brings greater responsibility. Referring to self-regulation, he said people who regulate have to be linked to consumers, and should be able to respond to challenges. He also stressed the need for quick hearing. He said the media was only reflecting what the consumers wanted. Professor Satish Deshpande of the Delhi School of Economics in Delhi University said India was at present a media saturated society and regulation derived from its meaning from crossing certain boundaries. The soft content produced by the media was affecting society and a large portion of it was stupid and mind-numbing. The workshop explored international and comparative perspectives on media regulation as it affects current debates and the future role of information in society. It explored contemporary issues around media self-regulation in India from the differing perspectives of academics, bureaucrats and politicians, industry leaders, civil society and legal experts.
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 aims to provide a basic framework to regulate the operations of cable television broadcast across the Indian Territory. According to Chapter II of this act, channels on TV and radio are bound to adhere to advertising and programme codes prescribed by the law. Non-adherence to the standard codes can lead to legal proceedings under the Criminal Procedure Code. The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act was amended in 2000 and 2002 to include new developments in broadcast media, such as direct-to-home services. Apart from that, The Cinematographic Act, 1952, also gives powers to government nodal agencies to regulate content in films and video productions.
Electronic Media Monitoring Center
To keep a check on the violation of content and advertising guidelines by private television channels and radio stations, the government has set up Electronic Media Monitoring Center, under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The center began operations in 2007. It works as a nodal agency to facilitate consumer complaints against broadcast media.
How to complain against a channel ?
Electronic Media Monitoring Center allows consumers to file complaints against private television channels and radio stations in a prescribed format. Before making a complaint, you should:
1. Electronically record the piece of content which is objectionable as per your understanding or simply make notes of it.
2. Keep a note of the programme name, channel name and date and timing of the broadcast.
3. Make sure that your complaint falls under the following types of violations:
- Child Abuse
- Child Marriage
- Violence against Women
- Contains anything obscene or nudity
- Half truth
- Communal speech
- Promote communal violence
- Provocative statements
- Drugs, alcohol and solvent abuse
- Sexual conduct
- Coarse and offensive language
- Imitative behavior
- Impartial reports
- Contains criticism of friendly countries
- Against any law and order
- Bad language or explicit scene of violence
- Attack on any particular religion
On receiving a consumer complaint, the agency validates the information against the official records. If the complaint is valid, it is forwarded to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which can then take strict action against the party that has violated the law. News Broadcaster Association (NBA) is another agency which seeks consumer complaints against unlawful reporting. It is an industry consortium for news broadcast channels and aims to promote self-regulation in news reporting. It is a private entity and not a government agency.
Why channels need self-control ?
Media experts, academicians and lawyers feel the need of the hour is to establish a regulatory body that inspires public confidence and has a creative focus on enhancing standards on television and Internet, says Divya Kapoor. Veena Malik continues to seize prime time news slots for her raunchy massages and towel-dropping acts, another ex gets axed on a reality show, uncensored clips of Splitsvilla are being watched by over 5,000 people on You Tube everyday and add to this, the latest: Repeat telecasts of Dehradoon ka darinda who “chopped of his wife’s body into 72 pieces” is the current topic of discussion in most Indian households. As TV shows and news channels turn personal in their obsessive TRP race, obscenity has touched an all-time low.
If one goes by what academicians and lawyers feel, regulation in electronic and online media can be brought about only through a certain degree of self-regulation. Agreed actor Anupam Kher. “Of course, the timings of some programmes need to be changed, that is, they should be shown post-11 pm. But what is more important is self-regulation. Because I may stop you from watching a TV show but you can always go a Google search and get over a dozen results on it,” he said. Talking further in favour of censorship, Kher argued how these days people find it fashionable to reject the suggestions on censorship. “There are more beeps in a TV show than the content.
Do you think the audience unwise to not understand what they mean? It’s fashionable for the rich who live in posh apartments and lead luxurious lives to say we don’t need censorship. If you go to smaller cities, you realise the importance of regulation,” he said, adding, “People have double standards. They tell their children not to watch a particular programme and then step outside to talk about why there should be no regulation on TV.” Kher, who had tweeted about attending the seminar on censorship in media, said he found 80% people in favour of regulation. “Those 20% who spoke against it are the ones who write columns in national dailies,” he said.
Internet also faces similar challenge
Discussing the challenges Internet faces, Google India’s policy analyst Raman Chima said, “The problem right now with Net is that most websites are not performing editorial services. They are merely providing services. To be able to have a strong filter, you need to have a legal system but it must not damage the freedom of speech.” Internet, Chima further explained, also allows people to be more vocal. “For example, if Google does something wrong, people can go to a social networking site and discuss the problem in communities.
Many a times, I’ve seen engineers who read those inputs and make useful changes,” he said. Chima added India needs to cope up with this problem through an open policy. “The first thing President Barack Obama did after taking over office was to start ‘open government directive’ which means all departments must lay out the work they conduct and involve citizens to participate in it. India is now trying to do the same. Through online networks, people are providing suggestions so that they help the Government bodies to get better results.”
NDTV Group CEO and executive director Narayan Rao said that there is always a possibility of those in power using the national security claim to bludgeon critics. “We have all discussed about what China did to Google. But what is happening to Julian Assange is in the manner of retributive punishment and it is difficult to convince that only sexual offences have landed him in jail,” he rued. Maintaining credibility will continue to be a huge issue, senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta pointed out how Internet has changed the way content is consumed. “Unfortunately, there are enough myopic people around who are willing to sacrifice a few bucks in order to make fast bucks,” he observed.
To cope up with these issues on a day-to-day basis, Professor Munroe E Price from University of Pennsylvania, suggested, “India is an open democratic society but with a complex culture. Therefore, TV is a boisterous medium here. If it is over-the-top, it is because of the abundance and cultural diversity in the society. As for expression within it, censorship and regulation are perhaps wrong words to be used. Rather we should evolve a vocabulary of appropriateness.”
The reason why regulation works best in certain Western countries, he said, “It is because they tend to have a more centrist approach as in India, you can’t work with the same grammar.” He argued for a structured response in case of emergencies though. “We need to have self-imposed restrictions with the idea of us being in it together and internalising the idea of commonality and shared concern,” he added.