A lot of heat has been generated over the content code mooted by the I&B Ministry. The Ministry had floated a draft ‘content code’ last week giving broadcasters’ and other stakeholders’ 15 days to give their views before it is incorporated in the Broadcasting Bill. The coming days will see a lot of heated debates in this regard.
The 34-page code lays down "guidelines for self-regulation" while at the same time envisaging the creation of a broadcast regulator to oversee the enforcement of these norms.
The Content Code, as its name suggests is a “code” or a set of principles by following which the broadcasters and advertisers are expected to themselves ensure that their programme content is suitable for the viewing or listening experience of the public at large. The Code will not be imposed on broadcasters or advertisers directly by the Government. It will be implemented through a three-tier mechanism separate and distinct from the Government and the I&B Ministry.
The first tier of self-regulation involves a content auditor to be appointed internally by each channel, who would be overall responsible for pre-viewing of the content to be broadcasted. The content auditor shall also be the point of contact for any issues, complaints in relation to any programme or advertisement broadcast by the broadcast service provider.
The second level would be the evaluation of the content in cases of complaint by Consumer Complaints Committees, to be set up by a peer body, that is, the Advertising Standards Council of India in the case of advertisements, and a body such as the Indian Broadcasting Corporation might be notified by the Central Government. It is expected that lodging of grievances at these two levels would largely take care of public grievances regarding content and broadcasters / advertisers would themselves make suitable modifications in future content.
It is only when they fail to do so or a complainant aggrieved with the order of the Consumer Complaints Committee files an appeal that the role of the regulator Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) would come into play. A second appeal against the order of BRAI can also be filed before the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal.
Another important feature of the Content Code is the classification of the programmes and advertisements as ‘U’. ‘U/A’ and ‘A’ categories along with specification of the timings in which they may be displayed. This classification is to be done by the broadcasters themselves in respect of the content they show. The Content Code provides them with guidelines for doing so. This again is in line with the concept of a “watershed”, which is the prevalent practice the world over for specifying a time at night after which the adult material can be shown. The watershed time is proposed to be fixed from 11 pm to 4 am.