Special Correspondent

News broadcasters opposed to directive on how to run their programming

Proposed code only a guideline for self-regulation: I&B Ministry

Cross media restrictions in BRAI Bill will stunt industry’s growth

NEW DELHI: News broadcasters on Friday rejected the proposed Content Code that is sought to be introduced by the Union Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry to regulate the electronic media.

This was confirmed by I&B Secretary, Asha Swaroop, after a fairly detailed meeting with broadcasters. In view of the broadcasters opposition to the Content Code and reservations about cross-media restrictions in the proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, the Ministry has once again sought written comments from them within the next fortnight.

According to Ms. Swaroop, the news broadcasters made it clear that they do not want a Content Code.

The Ministry had reworked the Content Code to include a separate seven-page chapter for news broadcasters on the understanding that they did not want to be clubbed with the other broadcasters. However, news broadcasters today informed the Ministry in no uncertain terms that they did not want any directive from the Government on how to run their programming.

Guideline for self-regulation

The Ministry’s plea that the proposed Code was only a guideline for self-regulation was stiffly contested by the news broadcasters. “It cannot be called self-regulation when it is spelt out by the Government,” was the refrain of the news broadcasters.

Also, they were peeved about the Government’s bid to rein in all news broadcasters just because some channels had shown objectionable content. Further, they pointed out that all news channels had a mechanism for self-regulation in place.

As for the Government, its stand was that such a Code was in effect already in place as part of the licence agreement that broadcasters sign before starting operations. The agreement makes it mandatory for broadcasters to abide by the Advertising and Programming Code. “All we are trying to do is to make it more clear and address the concerns expressed by various sections of society about content that is provided by television channels,” said a Ministry official.

On the BRAI Bill, there was opposition to the proposed cross-media restrictions on the premise that they would stunt the industry’s growth.

Though concerns were expressed about the sweeping powers the Bill gives to bureaucrats to confiscate equipment and register criminal cases instead of civil cases against “errant” broadcasters, the cross-media restrictions were the main bone of contention.