Bleeping out your Freedom? Broadcast Regulation for General Entertainment Channels

The post that follows is a Guest Post by Nivedita Saksena, a Fourth Year student at NUJS.

The censorship of content on Indian General Entertainment Channels (‘GECs’) has been the subject of much discussion and even ridicule recently, with a spate of orders and warnings (see here and here) being passed by regulatory authorities against television channels for broadcasting content that did not match up to standards. The television channels too, in turn, have resorted to self-censorship, which has resulted in many shows being reduced to incoherent and unfunny versions of themselves. Comedy Central, a television channel dedicated to (as the name suggests) telecasting comedic content, could afford to poke fun at this practice before it too came under the scanner of the authorities, and was recently temporarily pulled off the air.

This post analyses the process through which content on GECs is regulated. Some problems that have arisen in this process will be highlighted through a discussion of the Comedy Central order. These include the existence of conflicting regulatory mechanisms and the subjectivity of the standards that are applied while passing these orders.

How Your Favourite Shows Are Regulated

Given the failure of Parliament to establish a central authority to regulate broadcasting in the country, televised content is currently governed by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (‘CTNRA’). Under Section 20 of this Act, the Central Government is given the power to prohibit the operation of a cable television network in the public interest on certain grounds (the sovereignty or integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign state, public order, decency or morality). It may also impose these restrictions if it considers that a programme shown was not in conformity with the Program Code contained in Section 5 (read with Rule 6 of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 (‘CTN Rules’)). It has also been given certain powers under the Uplinking Guidelines and Downlinking Guidelines to refuse to grant licenses if compliance with the Program Code is not ensured.

To implement these provisions, an Inter-Ministerial Committee (‘IMC’) chaired by the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (‘the Ministry’) and composed of representatives from various other government ministries has been set up. The IMC can only make recommendations in relation to decisions taken by the Ministry, which usually issues show cause notices, warnings, advisories or might ask the channel to scroll an apology. Occasionally, a channel might be temporarily or permanently taken off the air, depending on the gravity of the violation. Monitoring is carried out through the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre, which records up to 300 channels 24X7 to spot violations and preserve records of the same. Other channels are not directly monitored, but the Ministry may take cognizance if any violations are reported.

Additionally, the Indian Broadcasting Federation has also set up a mechanism for self-regulation through the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (‘BCCC’) which addresses complaints through a two-tier process. It is guided by the Content Code and Certification Rules, 2011.

The Comedy Central Order

In June 2012, the Ministry issued a Show Cause Notice (‘SCN’) to the channel Comedy Central with respect to two programmes broadcast by it: ‘Comedy Central Presents’ and ‘Popcorn TV’. It stated that these shows violated Rules 6(1)(a) [offence against good taste and decency], 6(1)(d) [obscene, defamatory material, innuendos and half-truths], 6(1)(k) [denigration of women], 6(1)(o) [content unsuited for unrestricted public exhibition] and 6(5) [telecast timings for content unsuitable for child viewers] of the CTN Rules.

In its response, the channel stated that a self-regulatory mechanism was already in place and that it was the correct forum to address these concerns. They had accordingly forwarded a copy of the SCN to the BCCC for its consideration and the Ministry should raise any further concerns with the BCCC itself. The BCCC, after examining the episodes, was of the opinion that its content was objectionable and that the channel must be careful about airing similar content in the future. However, these violations were found to be the result of a genuine operational error and given the written assurance of the channel to be more careful in the future, they did not recommend any punitive action.

However, the IMC also simultaneously took up the matter. It determined that the channel had violated the provisions mentioned in the SCN and recommended that the transmission of the channel should not be permitted for 10 days. An order to this effect was subsequently passed by the Ministry in May 2013.

Issues Arising Due to Parallel Regulatory Mechanisms

The existence of two parallel regulatory mechanisms (BCCC and IMC) gives rise to some confusion with respect to the procedure for complaint redressal and the hierarchy of orders/directives passed by them. This issue also arose with the Comedy Central Order, and has been discussed below.

Viacom 18 Media Pvt. Ltd., which owns Comedy Central, challenged this order before the Delhi High Court. They raised two main contentions. First, they argued that it was mandatory for the Ministry to consult the BCCC before passing such an order. For this, it relied on the decision of the Delhi High Court in Indraprastha People v. Union of India where it was held that the Ministry would have to treat the decisions of the BCCC as ‘the foundation to take appropriate action and pass necessary directions as also orders against the offender’ given that they would otherwise lack the requisite statutory authority to be legally implementable. In this case, since the BCCC had not recommended a penalty, the same could not be unilaterally imposed by the Ministry. Second, they argued that the quantum of punishment imposed was disproportionate to the alleged violation.

A single judge of the Delhi High Court dismissed the petition, stating that under Clause 10.2 of the Uplinking Policy Guidelines, consultation with the BCCC was mandatory only to the extent of determining whether a violation of the Program Code had taken place. Once a violation had been established, the Ministry could determine the quantum of punishment on its own. In this instance, the question of a conflict between the findings of the IMC and the BCCC did not arise since the latter had also concluded that the impugned content was objectionable. As a result of the decision, the IMC can now unilaterally decide the quantum of punishment, and the order cannot be set aside for a lack of consultation with the BCCC. A reading of this order suggests that if the BCCC were to find that any show was not objectionable, and a conflict between the findings of the two bodies as to a violation was to arise, it would not be possible for the Ministry to take any action in this regard, except under section 20(1) of the CTNRA.

The quantum of punishment was considered appropriate considering that fact that under the Uplinking Guidelines, the Ministry ordinarily has powers to ban a channel for 30 days for the first violation.

The Court also examined the decision in Star India Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India, wherein a warning had been issued to the petitioners with respect to the show ‘Sach ka Saamna’. It observed that in this case, since the Court had upheld the government action (that had been taken without consulting the BCCC), it had impliedly made such a consultation a non-mandatory requirement. However, in Star India, the Court had clearly stated that such a consultation would not have been possible as the BCCC had not been constituted yet. In future cases, however, the BCCC was to be the first forum to be approached as it was a broad-based expert body, as opposed to the IMC which was a body composed only of government bureaucrats. The BCCC may further approach the Ministry for appropriate legal action in case of non-compliance with its directives.

This ban was later stayed by a division bench of the High Court on an assurance that the impugned content will not be telecast in the future.

Subjectivity of the Findings

This case also highlights the issue of subjectivity with respect to the content which is the subject matter of such orders. The court itself acknowledges this problem, and attempts to draw a distinction between content that was ‘ex facie vulgar and obscene’ and content where ‘more than one views [sic] may be possible with respect to their nature’. It opines that if the content falls in the former category, failure to consult with the BCCC would not vitiate a penalty, and it would also be possible for the court to pass an order to restrict the telecast of such content. But for content in the latter category, examination by an ‘independent broad-based body’ should be necessary. But the question still remains: who determines whether a show was ex facie vulgar or if multiple opinions were possible with respect to it?

If one were to examine the impugned content in this case itself, this problem becomes very apparent. According to the court, it fell in the ‘ex facie vulgar and obscene’ category. But the first video (from ‘Comedy Central Presents’), for example, would only seem vulgar if it was seen in isolation from its context. Some familiarity with the work of the comedian Jon Lajoie would demonstrate that he often uses parody in his comedy, as has clearly been employed here. Further, even though the second video (from ‘Popcorn TV’) may be crass, it is not graphic in nature. It does not portray real women, but only a ludicrous disproportionate blow-up doll. The subjects of the prank are aware of its nature at all times.

The Comedy Central order, then, is our latest reminder for the need to ensure transparency and non-arbitrariness in Indian broadcasting regulation.

India’s National Cyber-Security Policy: preliminary comments

We often forget how vulnerable the World Wide Web leaves us. If walls of code prevent us from entering each other’s systems and networks, there are those who can easily pick their way past them or disable essential digital platforms. We are reminded of this by the doings of Anonymouswhich carried out a series of attacksincluding the website run by Computer Emergency Response Team India (CERT-In), which is the government agency in charge of cyber-security. Even more serious, are cyber-attacks (arguably cyber warfare) carried out by other states, using digital weapons such as Stuxnet, the digital worm. More proximate and personal are perhaps the phishing attacks, which are on the rise.

It is therefore a great risk we run if we leave air-traffic controldefense resources or databases containing several citizens’ personal data vulnerable.  It follows that efforts towards better cyber-security are needed. The cyber-security policy is meant to address this need, and to help manage threats to individuals, businesses and government agencies. However the manner in which the government handles cyber-security must be examined carefully, both to see whether it will be effective and to ensure that it does not have too many negative spillovers.

It is important to bear in mind that the National Cyber-Security Policy is merely a statement of intention in broad terms. Much of real impact will be ascertainable only after the language to be used in the law is available.   The scope of the policy remains ambiguous so far, leading to much speculation about the different ways in which it might be intrusive.

One Size Fits All?

The policy covers very different kinds of entities: government agencies, private companies or businesses, non-governmental entities and individual users. These entities may need to be handled differently depending on their nature. Therefore while direct state action may be most appropriate to secure government agencies’ networks, it may be less appropriate in the context of purely private business.  For example, securing police records would involve the government directly purchasing or developing sufficiently secure technology. However, different private businesses and non-governmental entities may be left to manage their own security: depending on the size of each entity, each may be differently placed to acquire sophisticated security systems. A good policy would encourage innovation by those with the capacity to do this, while ensuring that others have access to reasonably sound technology, and that they use it. Grey-areas might emerge in contexts where a private party is manages critical infrastructure.

It will also be important to distinguish between smaller and larger organisations whilst creating obligations. Unless this distinction is made at the implementation stage, start-up businesses and civil society organisations may find requirements such as earmarking a budget for cyber security implementation or appointing a Chief Information Security Officer onerous. Additionally, the policy will need to translate into a regulatory solution that provides under-resourced entities with ready solutions to enable them to make their information systems secure, while encouraging larger entities with greater purchasing power to invest in procuring the best possible solutions.

Race to the Top

Security on the Internet works only if it stays one step ahead the people trying to break in. An effective cyber-security policy must keep up with the rapid evolution of technology, and must never become obsolete.  The standard-setting and review bodies will therefore need to be very nimble.

The policy contemplates working with industry and supporting academic research and development to achieve this. However the actual manner in which resources are distributed and progress is monitored may make the crucial difference between a waste of public funds and acquisition of capacity to achieve a reasonable degree of cyber security.

Additionally the flow of public funds under this policy, particularly to purchase technology, should be examined very carefully to see whether it is justified. For example, if the government chooses to fund (even by way of subsidy) a private company’s cyber-security research and development rather than an equivalent public university’s, this decision should be scrutinized to see whether it was necessary. Similarly, if extensive public funds are spent training young people as a capacity-building exercise, we should watch to see how many of these people stay in India and how many leave such that other countries end up benefiting from the Indian government’s investment in them.

Investigation of Security Threats

Although much of the policy focuses on defensive measures that can be taken against security breaches, this policy is intended not only to cover investigation subsequent to an attack but also to pinpoint ‘potential cyber threats’ so that proactive action may be taken. A ‘Cyber Crisis Management Plan’ is also contemplated, to handle incidents that impact ‘critical national processes or endanger public safety and security of the nation’.

This portion of the policy will need to be watched closely to ensure that the language used is very narrow and allows absolutely no scope for misinterpretation or misuse that would affect citizens’ rights in any manner.  This caution will be necessary both in view of the manner in which restraints on freedom of speech permitted in the interests of public safety have been flagrantly abused, and because of the kind of paternalistic state intrusion that might be conceived to give effect to this.

Additionally, since the policy also mentions information sharing with internal and international security, defence, law enforcement and other such agencies, it will also be important to find out the exact nature of information to be shared.

Conclusion

Many of the details of this policy will only become clear as the terms governing its various parts emerge. It is to be hoped that the parts of it requiring internal direct action to ensure the government agencies’ information networks are secure are already well underway.

It is also to be hoped that the government chooses to take implementation of privacy rights at least as seriously as cyber-security. If some parts of cyber security involve ensuring that user data is protected, the decision about what data needs protection will be important to this exercise.

Additionally, although the policy discusses various enabling and standard-setting measures, it does not discuss the punitive consequences of failure to take reasonable steps to safeguard individuals’ personal data online. These consequences will also presumably form a part of the privacy policy, and should be put in place as early as possible.

Cross-posted from the Free Speech Hub at the Hoot

On the Unfortunate Rise of the Indian SLAPP Suit

It is not news in this country when the law or other institutions of the state, are used as tools by which to threaten or intimidate citizens into submission to a particular course of action or to a particular point of view. Unfortunate as that is, today’s post will deal with the rising incidence of SLAPP suits, an abuse of the adjudicatory process that is also a feature in a number of jurisdictions elsewhere.

Our interest in them arises from two sources. The first is the particular damage that this device is able to do free speech. Its effects were quite picturesquely described in the following terms by the Delhi High Court in M/S. Crop Care Federation Of India v. Rajasthan Patrika (Pvt) Ltd. “Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined.”  [Rajasthan Patrika in turn borrowed this language from Gordon v. Marrone, a case in the New York Supreme Court.] The second is this piece of news.

About the Phenomenon

The term “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” is rather self-explanatory. Nevertheless, some of its features bear the explicit articulation:

First, there is always, and necessarily, a power imbalance between the parties in such cases: the plaintiff or complainant will always have greater and often disproportionately greater access to the resources necessary to enter and sustain a litigation, in addition to social, political or corporate power. A simple shorthand for SLAPP suits will always be Deep Pockets v. Free Expression. And so it has been in India, as this article evidences.

Second, there is always one object: to intimidate a target into silence or apology by way of legal action or the threat of it. SLAPPs are a win-win play for those that employ them: targets are likely to bow to the pressure given that they will not have access to the resources to mount a legal defense. Even where the defendants’ (relatively scarce) resources are diverted to the defense of their speech, even assuming that the threat and costs of litigation, the civil damages and/or penal consequences do not intimidate them, their opportunity cost will be considerably higher than that of the other party. Given the ordinary rigours of the adjudicatory process and the ubiquitous delays associated with it in India, however, the harassment function of the SLAPP is always achieved.

Third, SLAPP suits are always characterized by a flimsy, frivolous or even non-existent cause of action. They will have done their damage irrespective of, and before, the outcome of the suit is decided. The question of legal tenability, and in these cases, its absence is really not one of any relevance. The real damage is done by forcing defendants to bear the trouble (monetary and otherwise) with preparing and mounting the legal response/defense itself, rather than by the litigation’s ultimate success or failure. A little amusing then that in the latest instance, which I describe later in this post, it is a law student, presently in law school and writing for a legal blog who finds herself on the receiving end of such threats.

Defamation SLAPPs

Defamation is a classic tool by which contrary opinions are sought to be silenced by those in (political, social or corporate) power. Rajeev Dhavan argues here that defamation is becoming an increasingly popular tool by which the “politics of exposé” and whistleblowers participating in it are being threatened. [SLAPPs in India have arisen on the back of other causes of action as well. See, for instance, the case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Frontline discussing it.] Lawrence Liang details a number of older instances in which defamation has been used in Indian courts to silence speech here.

Much more recently, Tata Sons Ltd. v. Greenpeace International, involved intellectual property and defamation claims in a game designed to bring attention to the threat to Olive Ridley turtles from developmental activity in Orissa. The IIPM saga that rose to prominence in February this year is another instance of such litigation. It is also one that carries the added ignominy that a university, whose function one would presume is to foster critical thinking and the ability to constructively respond to criticism, would sue for defamation against criticism and use the state apparatus to employ opaque means by which to silence the allegedly offending content online [see here and here]. IIPM also demonstrates how SLAPPs will involve what have been called “creative ways” to abuse of process: more than one suit can be filed, and they can be filed in more than one jurisdiction or in jurisdictions in which it is difficult for the target of the suit to appear or defend him or herself.

On Attempts at Silencing Academic Opinion

While the Activist v. Corporation trope is by now a tired one, it appears that the incidence of SLAPP proceedings, both civil and criminal, against commentators and academics are on the rise:

Ajay Shah’s case has been a well-documented one [see here and here], and one in which the Bombay High Court did not appear to appreciate the SLAPP dynamic. Closer to home, Shamnad Basheer [see here and here] a professor at NUJS and founder of SpicyIP saw a defamation SLAPP suit for what appears to be an exercise in only academic analysis.

As of the 21st of this month, it was reported that a student contributor at the same blog, Aparajita Lath faces similarly suspect allegations of defamation from a newspaper [see here and here]. Here is a case not of Activist v. Corporation or Whistleblower v. Government, but of Academic Opinion v. Press. There is a special and truly unfortunate irony in the press having recourse to tools like the defamation suit, and even more egregiously, the criminal complaint.

Why We Worry

A number of rights of the target are ordinarily affected by SLAPP suits. In what was a significant case for the United Kingdom involving a defamation suit brought by McDonald’s against two authors of a pamphlet criticizing it, the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) recognized in Steel and Morris v. United Kingdom a number of the following rights:

First, there is the right to free expression itself. Violations of this right would arise on two levels, although the second may not be actionable. First, there is the right of the defendant to the SLAPP suit. Steel and Morris affirmed that the fact that the defendants to the defamation suit were not journalists did not mean that the scope of their free speech protection would differ [¶89]. Instead, it held that “the limits of acceptable criticism” where “large public companies” were concerned was wider than those that would otherwise apply [¶ 94]. India’s Supreme Court has, in one notable instance, disagreed on the proposition that bloggers should have similar rights to journalists. Next, there is the chilling effect: others placed similarly to the targets of SLAPP suits would self-censor to avoid legal retaliation for their views and the significant cost of defending themselves.

The importance of Steel and Morris however comes from this latter set of holdings. The ECtHR found that the right to fair trial, in civil and criminal cases, which included the right of access to court and to justice presumed an “equality of arms” as between contesting parties [¶ 59]. It held to this effect on the understanding that European Convention on Human Rights, the underlying rights instrument, was a guarantee of practical and effective rights. In the circumstances of that case, it found that since the financial disadvantage of the defendants in the defamation suit disallowed them the opportunity to mount an effective defence, there was a clear inequality of arms with McDonald’s that rendered the trial unfair for the purpose of Convention Article 6 (1) [¶72].

The IIPM blocks add a further dimension to the problem. When the content complained against is online, India’s lack of clear legal principles to determine, and more crucially limit, where the cause of action will have arisen and can be tried will only exacerbate the blogger’s situation, given the arguably global spread of an audience for online content.

A final point about this trend, particularly as it relates to silencing academic comment, is that it is a dangerous one, and one against which we must all speak out: these cases, in which the challenged content offers studied comment against the powers that be, will be a good acid test for the strength of our speech protections as they fall squarely within the class of speech which constitutional protections seek to maximize and disinhibit. It should be the very minimum that the Article 19(1)(a) guarantee entails.

More on this in a second post.

Disclosures: Aparajita Lath is a student of NUJS, as are a number of us on the Free Speech Initiative. In addition, I serve on the Board of Editors of the NUJS Law Review along with her. This post, however, is intended to reflect on the growing (and increasingly visible) incidence of the SLAPP suit and its effect on our freedoms to comment and criticize and to have access to articulations of the contrarian view.

News: PIL against Social Networking sites in the Delhi HC

Social networking sites are under judicial scrutiny: A PIL has been filed in the Delhi High Court against different social networking websites. The petition scrutinizes the income generated by these sites and the taxation of the same. Among other things, it seeks a direction that such websites should not “do agreements” with individuals under the age of 13, and that government officers do “not use social networking websites through office computers” as this would pose a potential data threat.

The matter is listed for April 9, 2013. Watch this space.

Source: http://www.barandbench.com/brief/2/3221/social-networking-sites-under-judicial-scrutiny-again-delhi-high-court-seeks-response-in-pil-on-their-tax-returns

Helping fix TV: Anti Tobacco Warnings

[Earlier this month, I mentioned a series of posts on based on complaints sent to broadcasting regulators. This post is the first in the series.]

With ever increasing frequency, channels are now displaying anti-tobacco warnings, which have little connection to the content being shown on television. The Cigarettes and Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 only requires these warnings to be shown when smoking and tobacco products are being depicted on screen. I sent in a complaint to the Broadcasting Content Complaints Commission (BCCC), since this is practiced by all broadcasters, and it is not possible to make individual complaints to each broadcaster.

Although the BCCC rules say that the complainant would receive a response within 2 days of the complaint (Rule 8.a), I have not received any response to my complaint, made on January 7, 2013. Since my complaint, however, at least one broadcaster’s warnings have become less conspicuous on screen, although there is still no relevance to the content being aired.

The full text of this complaint is reproduced below.

The Government of India has put in place excellent legislation to create more awareness about the medical and other negative side-effects of prolonged use of cigarettes and other tobacco products through the implementation of The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, (‘the Act’) which ensure that there are warnings about the evils of tobacco use. This includes, specifically, the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Rules, 2004 (‘the Rules’) issued under the Act, which detail the circumstances under which, specifically, advertisements of cigarettes and tobacco products would be banned. The Act and the Rules under them are all admirable steps towards the fulfilling of India’s international commitments under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, under the aegis of the World Health Organisation.

However, the portrayal, or mere representation of tobacco and/or cigarette use has not been prohibited, as was detailed in the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Mahesh Bhatt v. Union of India, where the learned judge suggested that cinema is intended to portray both the positives and the negatives of social life, and therefore, the use of tobacco products could not be prohibited. In addition, the learned judge suggested that as long as the actual sale of tobacco products was not banned, its portrayal on film could not be prohibited in a manner so as to survive a challenge under Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2), as to the constitutionality of such a measure.  On these grounds, the Court struck down Rule 4(6), 4(6A), 4(6B) and 4(8) of the Rules.

In light of this statement of unconstitutionality, and no subsequent amendment of these rules, it should stand that there is no prohibition on the portrayal of tobacco products on television. Equally it is no longer mandatory, statutorily, for television broadcasters to broadcast a warning in the manner prescribed in the aforementioned Rules. Despite this, it is a mark of the IBF’s commitment to public health that these warnings are still displayed.

However, there appears to be a disconnect with the manner in which the warnings are being displayed, as they are currently, and the goal of such messages. Very often, the messages appear when there is no portrayal of tobacco products on screen, leading to this complaint, which is to question the efficacy of the actions of the IBF. The messages, as they currently appear, are broadcast excessively often, and as mentioned previously, have no connection to the images being broadcast at that time. Therefore, the warnings do not achieve the purpose of re-enforcing a negative message along with images being broadcast. Therefore, it would seem that there is saturation of these messages, therefore making it easy for viewers to ignore them, and for them to fail to have any impact. This saturation is one of the reasons for statutory warnings under the Rules to be rotated or changed every 12 months.

To this extent, I believe that the actions of the members of the IBF are resulting in an unfair infringement on our Fundamental Right to Receive Information, which is an essential element of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, as laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in several landmark decisions including but not limited to Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting v. Cricket Association of Bengal, the seminal decision on freedom of speech in the broadcast media. I would request the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council to take the necessary steps to ensure that this over-regulation of content on the airwaves stops, since these actions not only prejudice the broader social objectives which such actions seek to achieve, but they also potentially, result in gross violations of fundamental rights guaranteed to ever citizen, under the Constitution of India.

Any rationale for such constant disclaimers is also unclear from the Self-Regulation Content Guidelines for Non-News and Current Affairs Television Channels. Under the Programme Categorisation System, Theme 4 dealing with alcohol and tobacco merely requires discretion while airing: there is no mention of warnings being shown, especially when the warning has no discernible connection with the matter being broadcast.

I would request the IBF and the BCCC to take the necessary steps to prevent these unnecessary incursions into every citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression, and further to refrain from activities which defeat the social purpose for which measures have been put in place.

News Post: 22 January, 2013

  • Speaking at a conference organized by the Institute of Mass Communication, the Chairman of the Press Council repeated his well known stance that Indian media should be subject to external forms of regulation (see here and here). This comes in sharp contrasts to views of government officials who still seem to favour self-regulatory models for the media.
  • The Observer Research Foundation recently organized a conference in New Delhi dealing with the question “Media regulation: Is status quo the answer”. Participants were in agreement that regulatory dialogue around the media, must also pay closer attention to regional and local media. A brief account of the conference can be seen here and here. Pictures of the even may be viewed here.
  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has sought the opinion of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regarding issues surrounding the ongoing digitization process, and the functioning of Multi-system Operators (MSO’s) and Local Cable Operators (LCO’s) has (see here and here).
  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has recently banned certain private T.V. Channels for broadcasting explicitly material that was allegedly in violation of broadcasting guidelines.

News Post: January 13, 2013

  • A fact finding team of the Press Council of India has claimed that there were rampant instances of paid news during the recently concluded Gujarat State Election. The news reports indicate that the formal report is still being finalized, and will be submitted to the Election Commission of India upon completion.
  • In light of the approaching general elections in 2014 the Press Council of India has taken suo motu cognizance of the issue of paid news. It had constituted a committee to draft fresh guidelines for journalists and media organization (see here and here).
  • On January 8, the magistrate currently hearing the trial of the 5 accused in the Delhi gang rape case has ordered an in camera trial, citing security reasons. Journalists have approached the Delhi High Court against this order, claiming their fundamental right to report on these judicial proceedings. The High Court has issued notice to the relevant police authorities and stated that a delicate balance between a fair trial and free speech rights, would have to be struck in this case (see here and here).
  • The Government is proposing that all electronic hardware be accompanied with a security manual, in order to improve cyber security.