In the last couple of years with increased competition in the Indian television domain, the Indian broadcasting industry has seen a significant number of complaints coming in context of the nature of content seen in reality and format shows on Hindi general entertainment channels. A significant development following this was seen when the Indian broadcasting industry established a self regulation code in the form of Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC).
A landmark development for the BCCC came in a recent judgment of the Delhi High Court, when in a case filed on the format show ‘Sach Ka Samna’ that aired on Star Plus, the Court for the first time recognised the self regulatory code BCCC.
In the judgment dated September 30, 2011, the Delhi High Court said in paragraph 20, “...There has recently been a conscious move by the media, as part of a self-regulatory exercise, to address this problem. The Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) has set up a Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) which is a thirteen-member body at present chaired by a retired Chief Justice of a High Court. It has twelve other members of which four are eminent persons, four are members of national level statutory commissions and four Broadcast members.”
The judgment also said that subsequent to the constitution of the BCCC, the I&B Ministry had itself been referring the complaints made to it to the BCCC. This is a tacit acknowledgement by the I&B Ministry that the complaints received by it about objectionable content of television programmes require to be examined by a broad-based expert body.
For the Indian broadcasting industry, this is a landmark development in the course of pursuing self regulation. The Indian industry has Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) as the self-regulation code for advertising and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) too has a code for the news industry. When the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) announced the agreement of broadcasters to form the BCCC for the non-new content, the step was seen in the right direction for the industry. The Delhi High Court’s judgment has vindicated this.
The Court has also questioned the competency of inter ministerial committee (IMC), which primarily comprises representatives of various ministries, in evaluating nature of content.
The judgment quoted, “The task of the IMC is a sensitive one. For instance, in the present case the IMC had to determine if the two episodes of SKS violated Rules 6 (1) (a), (d), (i) and (o) of the CTN Rules. It is doubtful if an IMC comprising entirely of bureaucrats would be able to discharge that responsibility with the degree of objectivity it requires. Therefore, it is important for the IMC to have a broad-based membership reflective of the competing interests involved in protecting the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.”
The two episodes in question were aired on July 17 and July 21, 2009. The primary allegation invoked rule 6 (1) a, hence stating that the programme was not adhering to good taste and decency. The allegation also was that the programme was vilifying, slanderous, obscene and defamatory with suggestive innuendoes and half truths. The allegation also was that programme was not maintainable for unrestricted programming. However, in case of the last allegation, Star Plus had itself scheduled the show for 11 pm, which has been marked as watershed hours for content not considered suitable for all audiences.
The other important aspect of this judgment was acknowledging the fact that even if the content may not be violating the programming code, it may not be fit for viewing for some of the target groups such as children.
It was also interesting to note that as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was not willing to allow the BCCC examine this particular matter, citing that “a decision had already been taken”, the Court judgment clearly stated that it “does not have the benefit of the views of an expert broad-based body on whether the two episodes of SKS which were telecast on 17th and 21st July 2009 were violative of any of the provisions of the PC. The determination to that effect in the impugned order is based entirely on the views of the IMC, which has no such broad-based representation of competing interests.”