The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday directed the Union government to consider working out the modalities for regulating the broadcast media through a statutory framework, including provision of a mechanism to address grievances.

It stressed the need to establish an autonomous and statutory mechanism to regulate the broadcast media, including television channels, in view of the upsurge in the industry and its impact on society in general and certain segments, such as children, in particular.

However, the court made it clear that it would not be a regulatory mechanism to control the broadcast media by an outside authority, but a statutory framework for regulation by the media itself on the lines of the statutory bodies that regulate professional standards of doctors, chartered accountants and advocates.

A special Division Bench comprising Justices Ajit J. Gunjal and B.V. Nagarathna was disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed by the Advocates' Association, Bangalore.

The association had sought a CBI probe into the March 2 violence involving advocates, mediapersons and police at the City Civil Court complex, besides seeking directions to regulate the media, particularly television channels. It alleged that some channels had broadcast “false news” about the death of a couple of police personnel during the violence and that incited the police personnel to indulge in large-scale violence against lawyers.

On the freedom of the press, particularly the electronic media, Justice Nagarathna, in a separate judgment concurring with the other views expressed by her senior companion judge on the Bench, observed: “While truthful dissemination of information is an essential requirement of any broadcasting channel, sensationalism in the form of ‘Breaking News', ‘Flash News' or in any other form must be curbed.”

“While there can be no two opinions that there has to be freedom guaranteed to the print and electronic media in the context of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, yet, one cannot lose sight of Article 19 (2) [which imposes reasonable restriction on 19 (1) (a)], to achieve a balance,” Justice Nagarathna said.

“Broadcasting cannot lead to an adverse impact on the integrity of India and the security of the state, public order, decency or morality, in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence, even though Parliament did not choose to include a clause enabling the imposition of reasonable restriction in public interest.”

However, Justice Nagarathna said the concept of regulation of broadcast media should not be understood to mean control by the government or the powers that be.

“No doubt, self-regulation is the most ideal form of regulation. But having regard to the upsurge in innumerable broadcasting channels, some of which are in their nascent stage, self-regulation without the intervention of any legal framework, in my view, is inefficacious.”

Though there was the National Broadcasting Standards Authority, a body of broadcasters for self-regulation, it did not carry any legal sanctity, which was a prerequisite for compliance in most cases of falling standards or professional transgression by mediapersons/broadcasters.

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