The Information and Broadcasting Ministry issued 43 warnings or advisories to various television channels during the last five years for violation of the advertising code. They included major English and Hindi news channels as well as high-end general entertainment channels (GEC). In the bouquet of news channels were NDTV, CNBC, IBN 7, Star News, Aaj Tak and India TV. The GECs were wide-ranging, from Star Plus, Sony and Sahara TV to Asianet Global, Zoom, Zee Cinema and a string of regional channels.
The Ministry's warnings went out to NDTV Good Times and Star Anando for telecasting surrogate liquor advertisements in the guise of airing music CDs. The channel, IBN 7, was warned for telecasting a programme advocating treatment for serious diseases without any scientific backing. Channels were ticked off for advertising fairness cream, vulgarly depicted underwear and misleading height increasing devices. Also on the Ministry's hit list was a particular brand of deodorant.
This information was provided in response to an RTI application filed by Apoorva Thakur, a law student and volunteer of the Delhi-based RTI Foundation. She had requested details of regulations and guidelines governing advertisements in the print and electronic media as well as guidelines, if any, for the media to verify the credentials and addresses of advertisers. Ms. Thakur wanted to know what action had been taken by the Ministry against the defaulters.
In its reply, the Ministry said: “All private channels are required to adhere to the Advertising Code prescribed under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 [CTN Act] and rules framed there under. This Ministry has constituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee to look into specific complaints or to take suo motu cognisance of the violations of the Programme and Advertising Codes by various TV channels. Action is taken as per the provisions of the Cable Act whenever any specific violation is found.”
The Ministry said the CTN Act vested powers in the State and Central governments to regulate the content of advertisements shown on private channels.
Replying to the same set of RTI questions, the Press Council of India admitted that there were no guidelines to check the credentials and addresses of the advertisers, adding that according to the “Norms of Journalistic Conduct,” an Editor “shall be responsible for all matters, including advertisements published in the newspaper. If responsibility is disclaimed, this shall be stated beforehand.”
The PCI said the norms stipulated that “no advertisement be published which promotes directly or indirectly production, sale or consumption of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor and other intoxicants.” The Council could warn, admonish or censure the erring newspaper but it was for the government to take action against it.
For its part, the National Commission for Women said it had conveyed its objections in writing to the Ministry as well as to the TV channels concerned against programmes such as Such Ka Samna, Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayega and Na Aana is Des Lado.