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I&B Ministry’s powers to regulate content on TV, other platforms

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 09, Feb 2022
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On January 31, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry barred the transmission of Malayalam news channel Media One citing ‘security reasons’.

  • Hours later, the Kerala High Court granted a stay, allowing the channel to continue functioning.

In which sectors can the I&B Ministry regulate content?

Till 2021: TV channels, newspapers and magazines, movies in theatres and on TV, and the radio — barring the internet.

Post the implementation of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021: Regulatory powers extended over internet content too, especially on digital news platforms and OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hotstar.

How does the ministry exercise its powers?

  • Through Cable TV network rules: The Information and Broadcasting Ministry, in 2021, amended the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 regulating Cable TV networks, providing for a “statutory” mechanism for complaints raised by citizens regarding any content broadcast.
  • The Electronic Media Monitoring Cell: It tracks channels for any violations of the programming and advertising codes mentioned in the Cable TV Network Rules, 1994. Violation can lead to revocation of a channel’s uplinking licence (for sending content to a satellite) or downlinking licence.

Overview of Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021:

  1. It provides for a three-level grievance redressal mechanism — self-regulation by broadcasters, self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the broadcasters, and oversight by an Inter-Departmental Committee at the level of the Union government.

Procedure for grievance redressal:

  1. A viewer can file a complaint directly to the broadcaster, who will have to respond within 15 days.
  2. If the complainant is not satisfied with the response, the complaint can be escalated to the self-regulating bodies set up by TV channels, which should deal with the case in 60 days.
  3. If the complainant is not satisfied with the decision of the self-regulating body, he may, within 15 days of such decision, prefer an appeal to the Central Government for its consideration under the Oversight Mechanism.
  4. Such appeals will be dealt with by the Inter-Departmental Committee set up under the Oversight Mechanism.

Composition of the committee:

The committee will be headed by the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and have members from various ministries.

Powers of the committee:

  1. Recommend the Centre to advise, issue a warning, censure, admonish or reprimand a broadcaster, or seek an apology.
  2. Ask the broadcaster to include a warning card or a disclaimer, or to delete or modify content, or take the channel or a programme off-air for a specified time period, where it is satisfied that such action is warranted.

Present Grievance redressal mechanism:

At present, there is an institutional mechanism by way of an Inter-Ministerial Committee to address the grievances of citizens relating to the violation of the Programme/Advertising Codes under the Rules, but it does not have statutory backing.

Significance of the new rules:

  1. It paves the way “for a strong institutional system for redressing grievances.
  2. It places accountability and responsibility on the broadcasters and their self-regulating bodies.

About the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995:

  1. The law prescribes imprisonment up to two years or fine up to ₹1,000 or both for the first offence, and imprisonment up to five years and with fine up to ₹5,000 if any media governed under the CTN Act violates the provisions and the “Programme Code”.
  2. The code, which contains an elaborate list of don’ts for cable TV channels, states that no programme should be aired that contains anything obscene, defamatory, false, and suggests innuendos and half-truths.

What kind of content is not allowed?

There are no specific laws on content allowed or prohibited in print and electronic media, radio, films or OTT platforms.

  • The content on any of these platforms has to follow the free speech rules of the country. Article 19(1) of the Constitution, while protecting the freedom of speech, also lists certain “reasonable restrictions” including content related to the security of the state, friendly relationship with foreign states, public order, decency and morality etc.