Back in the ’60s, television was limited to the channels of Doordarshan. But now, we have a plethora of channels airing a vast variety of content. Apart from films, we now have a variety of TV programmes ranging from family dramas, food shows, programmes for kids or revolving round fashion, lifestyle, celebrities, music, reality shows and so on. Unlike films (whether produced in India or outside India), which must be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) under the Cinematograph Act, 1952 prior to their telecast in India, no prior certification by any statutory authority is needed for TV programmes shown on TV channels. The regulation of content telecast in these programmes can be said to be a mix of regulation through statutory provisions and rules as well as self-regulatory guidelines.
The Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995 (Cable TV Act) and the rules made thereunder prescribe “Programme Code” and “Advertising Code” for programmes and advertisements appearing on the cable TV network. These codes set out the parameters that need to be complied with in respect to content shown on the Cable TV network.
Cable TV has been one of the oldest platforms for delivery of TV channels in India. With the evolution of technology, various other platforms have evolved. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has issued separate guidelines with respect to the delivery of TV channels via other platforms, namely direct to home (DTH), headend in the sky and internet protocol television.
All of these guidelines prescribe that the Programme Code and Advertising Code and the rules for Cable TV Act are also applicable to content shown in each such platform. Also, any TV channel to be shown in Indian territory, needs to be registered under uplinking guidelines/downlinking guidelines, as may be applicable. The terms and conditions for grant of such registration include compliance with Programme Code and Advertising Code and the rules for Cable TV Act.
Thus, the compliance with the Programme Code and Advertising Code is mandatory for any TV programme telecast through any of the delivery platforms.Some of the parameters prescribed under the Programme Code and Advertising Code are specific and hence, easier to ascertain compliance. By way of example, some of the parameters are listed below:
Only those films (whether produced in India or outside India) which have been certified by CBFC can be shown on TV channels.
TV programmes should not be in violation of the Copyright Act, 1987.
TV channels must have been registered under uplinking/ downlinking guidelines for being viewed in the territory of India.
The goods or services advertised shall not suffer from any defect or deficiency as mentioned in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
At the same time, there are parameters prescribed under the Programme Code and Advertising Code that are broad and subjective in nature and thus, open for interpretation. By way of example, some of the parameters are listed below:
Programmes should be of 'good taste/ decency'.
Programmes should not contain content which are 'obscene', 'defamatory', 'deliberate', 'false' or 'encourage superstition or blind belief'.
Advertisements should not offend 'morality', 'decency' and should not glorify 'violence and obscenity' in any way.
Advertisements should not contain 'indecent, vulgar, offensive themes'.
It is difficult to give exact meanings to these broad/ subjective expressions used in Programme Code or Advertising Code and the perceptions about these expressions could change with the evolution of culture and society. If a broadcaster is faced with the issue of whether a particular content proposed to be shown by it on a channel would be in compliance of these codes or not, it would be useful to refer to some of the past actions taken by MIB with respect to similar content. The actions of MIB, with respect to content violating these codes, are typically either in the form of warning/advisory against the telecast of the relevant content or in the form of a ban against the relevant channel or in the form of shifting the timing of telecast of the relevant content.
The authorized officers under the Cable TV Act, such as, the district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate and commissioner of police have powers to take actions (such as confiscate equipment, prohibit transmission) in case of violation of programme code and advertising code. In order to ensure enforcement and compliance of these codes, State and District level monitoring committees have been formed which can either receive complaints from the public or can take suo motu action. These authorized officers/state/district level monitoring committees can forward complaints to MIB against national channels/satellite channels.
The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is an industry-based body representing broadcasters. It has formed ‘self regulatory content guidelines for non-news and current affairs television channels’ and has also set up a ‘broadcasting content complaints redressal mechanism’. This mechanism is not intended to cover films since they can be telecast only after certification of CBFC. Any member of the public can make a complaint to the broadcasting content complaint council (BCCC) against content shown in TV channels. BCCC may issue warning to its relevant member and in case the complaint is against an entity which is not a member of IBF then it can forward such complaints to MIB.
In 2008, MIB issued draft ‘self regulation guidelines’ in order to guide the broadcasters in offering their programming services so as to conform to the certification rules which were intended to replace the programme code and advertising code.
To wrap up, the moot question which still remains at the heart of the statutory enforcement/self-regulation guidelines is which approach is better for regulation of content for TV programmes? Creativity and novelty of thought and presentation is key to entertainment for viewers.A very precise statutory regime may prove to be a hurdle to the launch of a new genre of programmes while at the same time a complete lack of statutory enforcement may result in inappropriate content being shown to the viewers.
Disclaimer–The authors are part of Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co., Law Firm. The views expressed are the personal opinion of the authors.