‘Statutory, mandatory self-regulation’ emerging as consensus model for media

Even as differences persist on its nature and composition, key stakeholders involved in the Indian media landscape appear to be converging towards a ‘statutory, mandatory self-regulation’ mechanism. Such a body would be ‘independent and autonomous’, with legal sanction. Its mandate would extend to all media entities, and it would have the ‘power to punish’.

This was a tentative consensus at an event here on Tuesday where Minister of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Manish Tewari, and heads of three regulatory institutions — Justice Markandey Katju of the Press Council of India (PCI), Justice A.P. Shah of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), and Justice R.V. Raveendran of the News Broadcasting Standards Association (NBSA) — spoke on regulation.

All speakers emphasised the importance of media freedom. Mr. Tewari recounted that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told him that the government’s relationship with the media must be an ‘essay in persuasion, not regulation’. Justice Katju said he had been the ‘greatest fighter for media freedom in this country’.

But freedom came with caveats, with speakers pointing to Article 19 (2) of the Constitution, which stipulated that freedom of expression was subject to reasonable restrictions. The question, the heads of the PCI, the BCCC and the NBSA said, was not whether there should be regulation or not, but the form of regulation.

While all chiefs spoke out against external government intervention, they argued in favour of more powerful regulatory mechanisms.

The BCCC has received 10,983 complaints till date, and addressed 1,263 ‘specific complaints’. Justice Shah said a High Court judgment had opened up the room for the BCCC to look into a complaint regarding channels which were not members of the industry body. He suggested a ‘statutory creation of a self-regulatory body, with appointments made by an independent mechanism’ as a viable model. “There must also be an appellate forum for grievances.”

NBSA chair Justice Raveendran expressed concern about the government’s tendency to convert any regulation into control, and said, “Existing mechanisms can be made more effective.” This needed ‘cooperation from the I&B Ministry’, where broadcasters could be given licence on the condition of becoming a member of trade body. Self-regulatory body could also be awarded powers to impose higher fines or recommend licence cancellation.

While emphasising that he was against any government control, Justice Katju said an independent statutory regulatory body with ‘power to punish’ was essential. In a bid to assure the media, he added that such a body could have ‘90 per cent’ media representatives. “In the PCI too, 20 out of the 28 members are media representatives. This would be a review by peers. Why are you afraid of yourself?” But other two regulatory body chiefs said there must be independent personalities, as media-dominated body would carry little credibility. One such model, which could be emulated according to the speakers, is the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). Through an amendment to the Cable TV Network Act, the ASCI was granted legal powers regarding ad content in the broadcasting space. Its Consumer Complaints Council — with 14 members, including eight from civil society and six from the industry — can tell a channel to modify or withdraw an ad, and in case a channel does not obey, the I&B Ministry can take stringent action.

Key concern

While reiterating that any move towards regulation would be industry-driven, and not come from the government, Mr. Tewari, however, flagged off a key concern. “Who do we give statutory powers to? What if the industry body splits tomorrow? Where will it leave the self-regulatory authority? This needs to be thought through.”

In order to allay fears about state control, Mr. Tewari added that his personal view was that such a self-regulatory body could also be made the ‘licenser authority’, a power vested in his Ministry till now.

“It has to be a credible authority with independent individuals. The media cannot check its own homework. A regulatory process cannot have an opt-in and opt-out provision, and must be mandatory. Presuming such a structure comes into place, it can be given licensing functions.”

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 10:09:46 PM |

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