By Utpal Borpujari
The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) might have set up the self-regulatory “News Broadcasting Standards (Disputes Redressal) Authority” and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) might have sought permission to telecast adult content in late night slots, but the government is quite clearly skeptical of their intent.
So, it is seeking to give yet another try and push the contentious Content Code through, even while giving enough indication that it would closely watch the implementation of the self-regulatory mechanism of NBA.
And going by the looks of it, the IBF’s proposal could end up in the rejection bin, as the recently-issued “guidelines for self regulation” indicate the government’s intent to keep a hawk-eye on what is telecast on the channels, night or day. The government is already studying the proposals from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on self regulation by channels.
Information & Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, in his latest effort to make the long-pending Content Code see the light of the day, has scheduled a meeting with private broadcasters this week. “I am holding a meeting and then we will decide,” he says.
The IBF proposal for permission to telecast adult content too could figure in that meeting as it is part of the overall content issue, according to sources in the I&B Ministry. “Views of all stake-holders, including members of the television-viewing public and civil society organizations, will have to be taken on IBF’s proposal if it reaches that stage, because it is after all a sensitive issue,” the sources said.
According to I&B Secretary Sushma Singh, “The I&B Ministry has given permissions to close to 400 channels and 150 applications are in different stages of processing at present. The Ministry is enabling an environment that is transparent and promotes healthy competition, creating a level playing field. Most importantly, it should also protect the consumer and the Ministry does so by provisions of various enactments and rules.”
And this is where the issue of self regulation comes into play – vis-à-vis “protection of consumer interest”. “Self regulation is necessary, and it is a voluntary action. It has to come from the people who manage the channel itself. There are ethics in broadcasting that are relevant, and should be observed. We would always welcome self regulation and no government can interfere in things like that. However, we would like to see its performance,” is how Singh puts it.
“Self regulation would have to keep in mind certain national and expected norms. There are questions like whether all broadcasters have come onboard or not, the participation of regional channels that are an acceptance of our diversity – all of them would play a role in this,” she says in the immediate context of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) initiative to go in for self regulation from October two, but providing the larger government perspective.
IBF’s proposal for adult programming slots would be weighed, as Ministry sources point out, against the categorisation of restrictions in content suggested in the guidelines for self-regulation. And it will be definitely interesting to see how things measure up.
The government, in the guidelines, have categorised content that could raise objections into nine groups: : “crime & violence”, “sex, obscenity & nudity”, “horror & occult”, “drugs, smoking, tobacco, solvents & alcohol”, “libel, slander & defamation”, “religion & community”, “harm & offence”, “advertisements” and “general restrictions”. And that virtually brings almost every possible angle of adult content under their ambit.
Take for example the first category, “crime & violence”. Under it, in the treatment of the subject, “while the overall theme, storyline and characterisation may justify one or more specific scenes of crime or violence”, it cannot “induce, incite, encourage, justify, reinforce or glorify violence or terror or its perpetrators or contain anything against the maintenance of law and order or promote anti-national attitudes”, “present violence as glamorous or an acceptable solution to human conflict” or “incite violence against specific groups identified by race, national or ethnic origin, colour, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disabilities”.
And these are only a few of the restrictions. There are separate detailed guidelines on the audio-visual presentation of a programme, sub-divided further into “U” “U/A” and “A” categorires a la film certification.
The restrictions in other categories also carry on in the same refrain, and going by them, it could be long before the IBF proposal could even come close to passing muster.
Incidentally, TRAI, while issuing its set of recommendations that is being examined right now by the I&B Ministry, had referred to the recent observations of the Supreme Court on the role of the Media and the “significant influence exercised by content on the society”.
TRAI wants to powers to regulate content to be transferred to itself – though it is also of the view that self regulation may work best for the present – but Dasmunsi has been on record refusing it, as the government wants to push for a separate body called the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) to regulate content, leaving only the regulations of technical issues to it.
Quite clearly, any proposal like the one formulated by IBF would have to clear all these hurdles – or regulations, depending on from which side of the prism one is observing it – and equally clearly, it will not be a cakewalk for the broadcasters if one goes by the government’s mood.
(An abridged version was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 04-09-2008)