Vinit Kr Jha Utpal
The contents of Indian Private News Channels have become questionable nowadays. Recently, on 9th January, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting released an advisory to the all-Private Satellite TV Channels for adherence to Programme Code under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995. On 13th January, the Supreme Court gave the statement related to hate speech and the lack of regulatory control on TV new content.
According to the advisory, several television channels including mainstream channels have reported incidents of accidents, deaths and violence in that manner, which grossly compromised on the good taste and decency and were quite unpalatable to the eyes and ears of a common viewer. These channels did not adhere to the programme code of Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995.
It is also said that the visuals of dead bodies of individuals, injured persons with blood splattered around, continuous cries and shrieks of a child beaten by a teacher and these were repeatedly telecast over several minutes is distasteful. These visuals are also heart wrenching, distressful, sensational and have a an adverse psychological impact on the society specially children and youth. In this context, the Ministry also mentioned the role of social media and said that the video clips have been taken from social media and little efforts have been made to modulate or attune or edit these clips.
In this regards, it is advised to the television channels to change the practice of reporting incidents of crime, accidents, death and violence in conformity with the Programme Code including offends against good taste or decency, contains anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half-truths, criticizes, maligns or slanders any individual on person or certain groups, segments of social and public of the country and in not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court has given a statement regarding hate speech telecast by TV Channels and said that the news telecasts by the TV news Channels which is driven by TRP. The Court said that Hate Speech is a complete menace in terms of free and balanced press in India, which divides the Indian society. Court also emphasized the lack of a regulatory body on TV news contents.
A bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna said that several times throughout live debates, the anchors assisted the issue by either muzzling the panellists’ voices or preventing them from presenting a counter argument. They suggested that if the anchor propagated hate speech, he/she should be taken off air.
Justice Nagarathna said that action should be taken against a TV channel’s management if it is determined that they are promoting hate speech in violation of the programme code. Court also said that media persons should understand the difference between trial and denigration and each person has dignity. Court explained that media persons must know that they are occupying positions of great strength and they have an impact on society. They cannot be part of the problem and speak their mind whichever way they want.
In 2014, in the case of Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India commented on hate speech and said that “the idea of discrimination lies at the heart of hate speech.” In 2020, ‘United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech’ defined Hate Speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor. This is often rooted in, and generates, intolerance and hatred, and in certain contexts can be demeaning and divisive.”
In the meantime, all the pillars of Indian democracy think that the contents telecast by Indian TV news channels are objectionable and must be restricted. There is no such body for TV Channels to regulate them as the Press Council of India, which is associated with newspapers. Although several steps have been initiated by TV news channels to regulate these channels, they are not as powerful as the Press Council of India. Firstly, in 2007, leading news and current affairs channels formed the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) to deal with ethical, operational, and regulatory matters facing news channels.
Secondly, in 2011, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) was set up by Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) to observe content-related grievances. Council analysis grievances against more than 300 non-news channels in various languages. In 2020, the News Broadcasting Federation (NBF), an association of 78 news channels, has set up a self-regulatory body to be called the Professional News Broadcasting Standards Organisation (PNBSO). At that time, it was said that the organisation will ensure that all the member channels follow the news broadcasting code of conduct that is aimed at improving and maintaining news broadcasting standards in India and curbing the menace of fake news.
It is remarkable that the Private News Channels came to India in the 1990s and in the last three decades, these Channels have not made any strong self-regulatory body, in which all news channels are associated and follow the advisories and instructions given by the body to them. Government as well as the Supreme Court regularly commented to regulate the contents in context of hate speech and other terms but no one took a dedicated initiative. The Article-19A of Indian Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to every citizen then every citizen should have duties to communicate the balanced and healthy information and in this regard TV news channels should take a strong initiative. These days, social media has also become the hub to spread hate speech, misinformation and disinformation, then Private News Channels have to regulate themselves as a responsible news organization to make a healthy society and country.
(The author is Assistant Professor in Mass Communication Coordinator, Digital Media Course Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Northern Regional Centre)
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