The Broadcasting Content Complaints Council — a self-regulatory body for non-news channels — on Wednesday told the Information and Broadcasting Ministry that its policy guidelines giving it power to deny renewal of licence to channels which have breached programme and advertisement code five times or more violates constitutional provisions. It suggested an alternative method involving imposition of heavy fines.
In a communication to the ministry, the BCCC said the provision that renewal of permission will be considered subject to the condition that the channel should not have been found guilty of violating the terms and conditions of permission, including violations of the programme and advertising code on five occasions or more “grossly offends Articles 19(1)(a) and (g) of the Constitution”. It amounts to “unreasonably restricting the freedom of speech and expression, and also the freedom of trade and profession of the broadcasters,” it said.
Calling it a “mechanical rule”, BCCC chairman Justice (retd) A P Shah said that “we need some other system”.
In its proposal, the BCCC — set up by Indian Broadcasting Foundation — said that all violations should not be regarded as serious. “There should be gradation of violations, ranging from mild to severe,” it said. Besides, the general practice should be to impose fines and directions for correction. “Fines should, however, be substantial in case of serious violations and not merely token fines...Suspension or revocation of licence must be resorted to in exceptional circumstances, and only in cases of repeated and extremely severe violations,” it added.
The body has suggested a criteria for determining the severity of violation. “Factors like duration of the breach, harm caused as a result of it, reversibility of the harm and measures taken for correction of the breach” should be taken into consideration while imposing sanctions, which should be made appealable.
Shah also disagreed with Press Council of India Chairman Justice (retd) Markandey Katju’s view that self-regulation was no regulation: “I respectfully disagree with Justice Katju when he says there should be statutory regulation of electronic and print media. There is lot of merit in self-regulatory mechanism. I also completely disagree that all powers should be given to the Press Council...There is an inherent danger in confiding all powers with one body. We need checks and balances. Some degree of accountability should be there even for a regulatory body.”