The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (“MIB”), on 9th January 2023, issued an advisory to private satellite television channels (“Advisory”) for airing distressing images and disturbing footage in violation of the Programme Code framed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (“CTN Act”) read with the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 (“CTN Rules”). 

In its Advisory, the MIB listed several instances of accidents, deaths, and violence that were reported by television channels in a manner that compromises “good taste and decency”. The MIB also noted that most of the videos, that were shown by private television channels, were taken from social media without appropriately modulating or editing such clips to make them compliant and consistent with the “spirit of the Programme Code”. Further, the incidents were shown repeatedly over several minutes without taking appropriate measures of blurring the images or showing them in a long shot, making such reports ghastly and distasteful for the audience.

The MIB noted that television is a platform that is watched by audiences of all age groups, including children. Since distasteful, undignified and sensational reporting can potentially lead to invasion of privacy and adversely impact the psychology of children, the MIB strongly advised all private television channels to align their practices and systems of reporting incidents of crime, deaths, violence etc. in conformity with the Programme Code.

Programmes and advertisements that are telecast on private satellite television channels in India are regulated under the CTN Act and the CTN Rules framed thereunder. As per the CTN Act, a person cannot transmit/re-transmit any programme or advertisement through a cable service unless such programme is in conformity with the Programme Code or the advertisement is in conformity with the Advertisement Code. These Codes provide parameters that govern programmes and advertisements on television channels. 

Our Take:

As acknowledged in the Advisory, television is a very powerful mass medium that has a persuasive outreach which can stimulate varied kinds of emotion, ideas, beliefs etc. Considering this vast reach and access, it becomes imperative for authorities to regulate television content mindfully and reasonably.

Under the CTN Act, the Central Government is empowered to regulate and prohibit programmes that are not in conformity with the Programme Code as well as the Advertisement Code. Further, the CTN Act also imposes penalty for contravening the provisions of the CTN Act. By actively monitoring programs and advertisements and issuing advisories, the MIB plays a crucial role in reasonably warning the television channels against any violation of law while at the same time allowing such television channels to operate without facing penal consequences.

The recently issued Advisory appears to strike a balance between the airing rights of the broadcasters and interests of the public at large by exercising vigilance in respect of images and footage that can have a psychological impact on the audience and ensuring that the tenets of the CTN Act are followed in letter and spirit. 

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