The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (“MIB”) on 23 April 2022, issued an advisory to private TV news channels, for coverage of events and incidents in a manner violative of the Programme Code framed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (“the Act”) and advised them to refrain from airing such content.
The advisory specifically highlighted the reporting on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, certain incidents in North-West Delhi and content in some news debates as violative of the Programme Code.
The advisory invited attention to the specific provision of the Programme Code that prohibits the airing of content which:
- offends against good taste or decency;
- contains criticism of friendly countries;
- contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes;
- contains anything, obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half truths;
With respect to reporting on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the advisory noted that certain TV news channels have made false claims, used scandalous headlines and fabricated statements to incite audiences.
Similarly, the coverage by some TV news channels of certain incidents in North-West Delhi was cited for having used provocative or fabricated headlines, aggravating communal tensions and disrupting investigations by playing scandalous and unverified video footage.
The advisory further noted that some channels broadcast debates having unparliamentary, provocative and socially unacceptable language, communal remarks and derogatory references. This has the potential to incite communal disharmony and disturb the peace at large.
The advisory expressed serious concern about the manner in which the TV news channels have gone about transmitting content and strongly advised them to immediately refrain from publishing and transmitting any content which is violative of the Act and the rules framed thereunder. Effectively, TV news channels were warned not to air content which may be deemed to be, among other things, scandalous, provocative, fabricated or contain unparliamentary language.
The Central Government is empowered under the Act to regulate or prohibit transmission/retransmission of a programme where such programme is not found to be in conformity with the prescribed Programme Code.
The Government is empowered to regulate or even prohibit content for violation of the Programme Code. Further, there exist sufficient penal provisions under various laws, to punish hate speech, incitement of communal disharmony and fake news. The Constitution of India also provides for reasonable restrictions on free speech, on grounds of, inter-alia, security, public order and morality. Given this legislative backing, the Government’s step to warn TV news channels against airing of provocative, fabricated and communally sensitive content is a welcome one in the interest of societal harmony as well as friendly relations with foreign countries.