An Article on Content Regulation

– By Apoorva Mishra

In India, media as a whole is regulated through a gamut of statutes and codes. Being one of the largest industries, its regulation is regarded significant in the interest of public and nation as a whole. The real value of such a regulation is to handle the relationship between any segment of media and the public. In case of Television media, the regulation sets the expectations of that relationship and allows the television media to be the “service provider” to be called to account if those standards are not met. On a face value, it works very well if nothing hinders the legal standard and the most importantly the moral standard of the society. It is expected that the Regulatory bodies can mediate relatively informally, away from the court rooms and hopefully effectively to resolve the complaints and improve their performance.

It is known that whenever regulation is introduced in any field where influence on public is huge, there will be a mix of economic, political and cultural concerns and approaches. One could see the impact of visual media to be far more than the print media and hence regulation over it has always been more than its other counter parts. Earlier, broadcasters needed limited access to airwaves, so the state could license away to any private player. This gave an opportunity to increase revenue as well as to regulate the content to be displayed. Technologically, airwaves have also been found to be relatively easier to regulate so the state had full advantage to impose more demanding regulation. Whether there is harm on the right to free trade or free expression, is a later concern, the state was fully aware of its potentially powerful influence over large swathes of audience, hence, former right is allowed to be overridden.[1]

Everything seemed fine till the age of New Economic Policy was introduced in the 1990s which opened the gateway for the private players to serve the public with negligible regulation. This was followed by several consequences both at macro and micro level. Though few hurdles were apprehended but at the same time it pose a problem to protect the much coveted fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. Indian society is now going through a process of transition and media is also responding to the various needs to it. However, the subtle balance between Article 19 freedom and public morality and decency is also a surmountable task to attain. To decide such controversial issues, it is of paramount importance that a genuine and neutral body is judging the process.

Media regulation in India is currently a maze, with multiple agencies involved in formulating and implementing policy, drafting and enforcing legislation. To make matters worse, they often appear to be unaware of each other’s interventions and seem to work at cross purposes. Among the official organisations currently involved in media regulation are the following:

  • Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting: It functions as policy-maker and content
  • Telecom Regulatory Authority of India: At one point it was given the responsibility for regulation of the broadcast sector (in addition to the telecommunications sector) but it backed out and currently it is involved primarily with issues of technology, such as carriage regulation and pricing.
  • Inter-Ministerial Committee: It was constituted by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to look into complaints regarding violations of the programme and advertisement codes connected to the Cable Television Act and Rules.

These are the few bodies which are often encountered when issues regarding regulation of television content surfaces. It is true that the idea of an independent regulatory body to regulate the media content is revolutionizing the entire nation. Moreover, one must also accept and adhere to the fundamental right of freedom of expression granted by our Constitution. However this right be regarded as a license to impede our morality and ethics.

[1] Ammu Joseph, Broadcast regulation in the public interest: A Backgrounder, InfoChange Media, available at

http://infochangeindia.org/Media/Broadcast-Laws-and-Regulations/Broadcast-regulation-in-the-public-interest-A-backgrounder.html

 

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