Asserting that there is no statutory vacuum, the central government has told the Supreme Court there exists a robust mechanism for regulation of content of private television channels.
In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has said the Union of India has always protected journalistic freedom and encouraged the policy of promoting self-restraint and self-regulation in the field of journalism.
The government said this was meant to ensure that media houses and journalists acknowledge their vital role and responsibilities towards the society and elevate their standards of practice though self-devised methods.
This, it said, ensures there is minimum interference by government authorities in the functioning of media. It is only in cases involving national security that the government’s statutory mechanism kicks in, the affidavit said.
“There is no statutory vacuum, in so far as regulation of the broadcast of irresponsible reporting and grievance redressal mechanism for the viewers is concerned. It is respectfully submitted that the answering respondent has a robust mechanism of regulation of the content of private television channels as laid down under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act and the rules framed thereunder.
“As such, the Central Government, since inception, has purposefully imposed a self-restraint on itself and has adopted a regime of forbearance so as to promote a mechanism of self-regulation by media houses and journalists,” the ministry said in its affidavit.
The affidavit was filed in response to a plea by the News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) against the January 2021 observations of the Bombay High Court.
The high court had said media trials amounted to contempt of court and urged the press not to cross the proverbial “Lakshman Rekha”, as it found the coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case by some news channels “contemptuous”.
It had observed that existing self-regulatory mechanisms could not take the character of a statutory mechanism.
The I&B Ministry said in the affidavit the government’s approach was, however, misunderstood by voluntary federations like News Broadcasters Association (NBA), now known as News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA), which insisted that instead of statutory regulations that may be framed independently by the central government under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, the government ought to recognise it as a sole authority in the area of news broadcast.
“NBDA thus claimed a monopolistic right over the grievance redressal mechanism over the entire industry through its in-house self-regulatory mechanism,” it said
The ministry told the apex court that as on August 31, 2023 there are 394 news channels which are registered and licensed by the central government under the uplinking and downlinking policy guidelines.
“Further there are 511 non-news channels like entertainment channels, sports channels, devotional channels etc. which are also registered and licensed by the Central Government under the Uplinking and Downlinking Policy Guidelines,” it said.
The affidavit said as far as general entertainment channels are concerned, there is one major organisation called Indian Broadcasting Foundation having 313 members (as on April 2023).
“The said IBF has set up a Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) as a self-regulatory mechanism to examine the complaints relating to content being telecast in this category of broadcasters. Justice (Retd.) Gita Mittal, former Chief Justice of Jammu & Kashmir High Court is Chairman of Broadcasting Content Complaints Council,” it said.