As part of a scheme to regulate broadcasting content for the public domain, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has issued a set of self-regulation guidelines for the broadcasting sector.
The scheme is intended to ensure conformity with acceptable contemporary community standards and to protect vulnerable sections of society from harmful and undesirable content on television.
The guidelines consist of a two-level self-regulatory mechanism. The first tier deals with self-regulation at the broadcasting service provider (BSP) level and the second tier, with self-regulation at the industry level.
Self-regulation at the industry level empowers the central government or the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) to authorize companies to set up individual Broadcasting Consumers’ Complaints Committees (BCCCs).
These committees will comprise professional experts from the industry, consumers or other members of a civil society organization, as well as eminent individuals with legal or regulatory experience, to adjudicate on public complaints and appeals.
The BCCCs will help to monitor, address and regulate the broadcasting of films, advertisements and programmes.
BSPs must comply with prior certification procedures as stated in the Cinematograph Act. The act states that all films have to be previewed and certified by the Central Board of Film Certification. This procedure must also be followed for the broadcasting of films, promotions or trailers, aired on both radio and television.
The broadcasting of advertisements is already covered by a self-regulatory body known as the Consumers’ Complaints Committee of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). All the advertisers are supposed to adhere to an advertising code developed by ASCI for all broadcasters and cable operators. Each advertisement must be certified by the content auditor to ensure compliance with the ASCI Code.
In relation to the broadcast of programmes, BCCCs are set up by certain industry-level representative bodies nominated by the central government, such as Prasar Bharti for Doordarshan and All India Radio.
The Indian Broadcasting Foundation has been nominated to ensure compliance by television channel operators broadcasting their channels on cable and satellite dish TV, mobile phones, etc.
The BCCCs of the ASCI, the IBF, the News Broadcasters Association, the Multi-System Operators Alliance, the Cable Operators Federation of India, the Association of Radio Operators for India, the Citizen Research Foundation of India and other similar organizations have many powers and functions.
These include the power to receive appeals, complaints or grievances regarding a programme or an advertisement broadcast by a BSP; the authority to consider appeals or complaints and facilitate their settlement by passing a reasoned decision in writing within 60 days; the power to report to the central government or the BRAI, any non-compliance of its orders without reasonable cause, for suitable punitive action under the relevant laws.
BCCCs are also permitted to demand the tapes of any programme or advertisement as deemed necessary. The BSP and the advertiser are obliged to supply the requested tapes within five days. Although BSPs are required to preserve their tapes for 90 days after they have been broadcasted, in the event of a complaint, the BSP should retain its tapes until the matter has been settled.
BCCCs are expected to send a copy of the order passed by it to the complainant and the BSP as well as post it on their website and maintain an updated list of all such orders passed.
BCCCs should also take whatever steps are necessary to enhance the understanding and awareness of the certification rules guidelines. They are also expected to inform the public of their role in content regulation.
These bodies may recommend to the central government or the BRAI amendments, amplifications or clarification to the certification rules on the basis of issues raised by consumer complaints or appeals received by them.
If the concerned BCCC or any such organization notified by the central government or the BRAI considers that the BSP is at fault, it may direct the BSP not to telecast objectionable programmes or advertisements if a final decision is pending.
BCCCs may direct BSPs to make suitable edits to an advertisement or programme; cease the broadcasting of offensive content; issue an apology, disclaimer or warning for offensive content; or order punitive action so as to comply with the certification rules.
Manoj K Singh is the managing partner and Monica Das is an associate at Singh & Associates, Advocates and Solicitors, a law firm based in New Delhi.
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