Broadcasters’ self-regulatory body has asked the government to review its content penalising policy in a recent report

Broadcasters would rather accept massive fines – running into lakhs of rupees – to penalise content violations, rather than the government’s current policy whereby three violations could lead to a TV channel being pushed off air.

The Broadcasting Content Complaints Council – the industry self-regulator – has prepared a report asking the government to review its Policy Guidelines for Uplinking of Television Channels from India, which allows for a “three strikes and you’re out” approach to violations.

According to Section 8 of the guidelines, a first violation of the guidelines could lead to the suspension of the channel’s permit to uplink, and a 30-day ban on broadcast, with a second violation resulting in a 90-day ban. However, a third violation could mean “revocation of the permission of the company and prohibition of broadcast up to the remaining period of permission.” While these penalties are not always imposed, the guidelines give the government of India the right to slap them on offenders.In actual practice, no channel has actually committed more than two violations since the guidelines were finalised in 2011. However, one major channel went to the Delhi High Court when the BCCC accused it of its third violation -- simply because of the fear that a conviction might have resulted in a total ban and revocation of its uplinking license. Clause 10.2 of the guidelines are also stringent, allowing for prohibition of broadcast in case of five violations of the advertisement and programme codes. “This is a very mechanical rule,” says BCCC chairman A.P. Shah. “In fact, such rules may not be constitutional. In my view, this violates the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 19.”He pointed out that there is no allowance for differences in the severity of a violation. A minor breach is treated the same as far more serious offences.In its report, the BCCC suggested that there should be a gradation of violations, taking into account factors such as the extent and severity of the breach, the time period for which it was on air, what harm or injury was caused by the breach and whether it can be reversed by corrective measures and whether the broadcaster has taken such measures. The report recommended that “as a general practice, sanctions imposed should be in the nature of fines and directions for correction; fines should be substantial in case of serious violations, and not merely token fines.” In fact, BCCC sources say the fines could even be above Rs. 10 lakh for serious violations, thus acting as a deterrent to further offences.

“Suspension and revocation of license must be resorted to in exceptional circumstances, and only in cases of repeated and extremely severe violations,” said the BCCC report.

Justice Shah felt that the framing of these provisions are “ambiguous” and the BCCC wants the government to consult with the self-regulator before implementing them. The BCCC also recommended that an independent Adjudicatory Body be set up to deal with the violations.

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