Self-regulatory norms for the broadcasting sector

By Manoj K Singh and Daizy Chawla, Singh & Associates, Advocates and Solicitors
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In order to ensure the responsibility of the service provider, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued a set of self-regulation guidelines for all broadcasting service providers (BSPs) irrespective of the medium or platform used for broadcasting programmes.

The objective of the guidelines is to regulate content going into the public domain to ensure conformity with acceptable contemporary community standards, and to protect vulnerable audiences from harmful and undesirable content on TV.

As the guidelines are based on self-regulation, they highlight the factors that should be taken into account by the BSP when forming a view about the acceptability of any programme.

For the purpose of the guidelines, “programme” in relation to broadcasting services refers to any television or radio broadcast and includes exhibitions or films, features, dramas, news broadcasts, advertisements, promos, trailers, songs, music videos, and serials through video/audio cassette recorder or video/audio cassette players.

The guidelines apply to any audio or visual, or audio-visual live performances or presentations, but do not include any matter that is wholly related to, or connected with any private communication.

Guidelines: Basic principles

a) Programmes should always be scheduled with an awareness of the likely audience in mind.

b) Great care and sensitivity should be exercised to avoid shocking or offending the audience.

c) Reasonable steps to be taken to protect minors. The BSP should be vigilant in gaining an understanding of how material shown on television could affect the development of minors.

d) The programmes should be categorized based on their theme, subject matter treatment, language and audio-visual presentation.

e) For news and current affairs programming broadcast throughout the day, it is desirable that BSPs edit the content as well as carry prominent warnings and suitably mask any portions of news or current affairs scenes considered unsuitable for viewing, in accordance with the certification norms.

f) Television news has greater reach and impact than other media. It is instantly available in millions of homes to both discerning and non-discerning audiences. BSPs should bear in mind that any damage or injustice resulting from news or current affairs programmes aired on television cannot be undone.

g) The chief editor of the BSP should ensure that adequate briefing is given to external participants about the certification norms. The BSP should be indemnified against any deliberate violations by guests or participants involved in live or interactive programmes or advertisements. This includes gestures or utterances which may not be predictable and which may violate the certification rules. It would be treated as sufficient compliance with the certification rules if the anchor at the end of the show sums up the proceedings, offering a balanced view of the discussion and stating that the views expressed by the participants were their own.

The guidelines provide a two-tier mechanism for the self-regulation of content. The first tier is at the BSP level, and the second tier is at the industry level. This discussion solely covers the mechanism of self-regulation at the BSP Level.

It is the individual responsibility of each BSP to ensure compliance with the certification rules prescribed under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995, and the rules made under the act.

BSPs are expected to abide by the principles, guidelines and interpretations, and standards and norms prescribed by the central government or the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI).

The chief editor of the channel will be responsible for ensuring that programmes are consistent with the certification rules and comply with all other legal and administrative requirements under various statutes with respect to content broadcast on the channel.

For the purposes of monitoring internal mechanisms and to comply with the relevant rules, BSPs may appoint one or more content auditors with requisite qualifications.

The details of its content auditors should be provided as public information on the BSP’s website and channel. This information will also be provided to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and BRAI, which will also publish such details on their websites. The content auditors will also be the contact point for any feedback or complaint from the public regarding content violations.

The chief editor of the channel will be responsible for the final decision to accept or modify the guidance given by the content auditor, and may schedule and broadcast a programme accordingly.

Manoj K Singh is the managing partner and Daizy Chawla is an advocate at Singh & Associates, Advocates and Solicitors, a law firm based in New Delhi.

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