The Supreme Court has asked the government to set up a statutory mechanism for “redressal of complaints” against contents of private TV channels and radio stations. The top court directive came in a plea filed by an NGO ‘Mediawatch India’ seeking a regulatory body for the media on the ground that the Centre has failed to regulate the contents of the broadcast media.
A bench, comprising Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud, though said they “cannot” ask the Central government to monitor the content.
“We cannot ask them (Centre) to monitor the content of the channels. How can we do that? You can approach us or the authority concerned after telecast or airing of objectionable contents only,” the bench observed when lawyers Prashant Bhushan and Kamini Jaiswal sought establishment of an independent regulatory authority to govern broadcast media.
“If something happens and you find them obnoxious, then we will certainly deal with them. Generally speaking, we cannot interfere with it and do content regulation,” the court said.
Further referring to section 22 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, the bench asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to constitute a body under the provision to deal with citizens’ complaints against television channels and radio stations regarding their alleged objectionable contents.
It also said the issue pertained to the right of media enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution on freedom of speech and expression.
Set up the mechanism and rules to “formalise the complaint redressal mechanism” and accord “adequate publicity” to it so as to enable the public approach it with their complaints, the bench asked the Union Information and Broadcasting ministry.
During the hearing, petitioner’s counsel Bhushan said “this business of self regulation business doesn’t work”.
The plea, however, was opposed by the counsel for News Broadcasters Association (NBA) who said the self regulatory mechanism has been working well for news channels. Besides NBA, the Association of Radio Operators for India and Advertising Standards Council of India were made parties to the petition which was filed in 2013.
“For the last one and a half decades, the Ministry of I&B is perpetuating virtual anarchy in the realm of broadcast media regulation. Especially on the content regulation front, its broadcaster-appeasing and wait-and-watch policies marked by sheer ad hocism and indifference to viewers’ interests are adversely affecting the rights of millions of broadcast media consumers,” the petition had said.
“The Ministry as content regulator had failed completely in protecting the interests and basic rights of the audience.
“It has not constituted sufficient infrastructure and resources to ensure quick decision-making against offending channels and is also not imposing deterrent penalties as provided by law,” the petition had contended.
The Centre, meanwhile, informed the court that till 2011, it had “the capacity to monitor 150 TV channels 24×7” which could be raised to 1500 channels by the end of this year.
(With inputs from the PTI)