Home Television How the Center exercises strict control over television news channels

How the Center exercises strict control over television news channels

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On Monday, the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting refused to renew the license of the Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV to broadcast on television after the Union Home Ministry denied permission to the channel.

In response, MediaOne approached the High Court of Kerala, who postponed that suspension until Wednesday, when he will next hear the case. The editor of MediaOne TV published a declaration claiming that the channel had not been informed of the reasons for the suspension.

This ban again highlights the ability of the Union government to control what is shown on television. This isn’t the first time MediaOne has run into trouble with the ruling dispensation. In 2020, the news channel, along with Asianet News, was banned for 48 hours for his coverage of the Delhi riots on land that he was “biased” and critical of the Delhi police and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the Hindutva organization that heads the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

How are TV channels regulated?

Television content is regulated by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. Under this law, the central government controls who gets the required license to operate a TV channel and even what kind of content it can broadcast.

Each channel must register with the government before it can be broadcast. The 2011 Ministry of Information and Broadcasting guidelines on Uplink and Downlink Television Channels sets the conditions for obtaining this registration. This includes, among others, having a registered company in India and minimum net worth requirements.

To start a channel, the 2011 guidelines specify that an application must be made to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The ministry assesses a channel’s suitability for an Indian audience. It then sends it to the Ministry of the Interior, which must issue a security clearance to these channels.

Registration is granted for 10 years. The company is required to comply with all conditions set forth in the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, including compliance with a program code that defines the type of broadcast content permitted.

MediaOne and Asianet News logos which were banned for 48 hours in 2020.

The Center also has the right to suspend the registration of a channel “for a specified period in the public interest or in the interest of national security”. The chain must immediately comply with such an order. Additionally, in the event of “war, calamity, or national security concerns”, the government has the power to prohibit the reception or transmission of any channel.

Every ten years, companies must apply for renewal of their registration. The government has the power to refuse renewal if a company has violated the terms and conditions set by law.

MediaOne’s 10-year broadcast license ended in September 2021. When he applied for a renewal under the 2011 guidelines, the Home Office did not grant him a security clearance. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting sent a show cause notice to MediaOne on January 5 asking why it should be allowed to carry their channel.

The company replied that it had not been informed why this authorization had been refused by the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting later revoked MediaOne’s broadcast license.

Why can a program or channel be taken off the air?

Section 5 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act states that any program transmitted must conform to a program code. This code is stipulated in the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994. The code contains a list of 17 items that are excluded from television programming. This includes offense to “good taste or decency”, anything that “contains anything affecting the integrity of the nation” and programming that “contains criticism of friendly countries”.

In addition, under Articles 19 and 20, the central government may prohibit or regulate the transmission of a program or channel if it violates the Program Code. The government may also prohibit the transmission for other reasons, such as public interest, security or sovereignty of the country. Prior to such a ban or regulation, the central government may give the channel operator a chance to present its case.

In 2008, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting established aElectronic Media Monitoring Center ensuring that television stations comply with the conditions set out in the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act. This records the channels 24 hours a day in order to scan them.

In addition, broadcasters have a three-tiered regulatory mechanism including self-regulation, self-regulation by a broadcaster body, and government monitoring mechanism. For this oversight, the government has formed an inter-ministerial committee made up of bureaucrats from various ministries to ensure that these codes are followed.

This three-level mechanism was introduced by an amendment in 2021 and was challenged before the High Court of Kerala on the grounds that this mechanism gives the executive excessive powers to regulate the television media, which goes against the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

How does this compare to print media?

While newspapers and periodicals must also be registered under the Press and Book Registration Act 1867, the level of information required and control is less intense than for television stations. Unlike TV stations, subscription to print publications is not granted for a set period of time, and since there are fewer compliance requirements, the grounds for de-listing a newspaper are limited.

Also there are Standards of journalistic conduct stipulated by the Press Council of India which set the standard that journalists, editors and writers must meet to effectively discharge their role as members of the press.

This, however, as noted courts, is a moral and not a legal control. Even the Press Council of India Act 1978 only gives the power to warn, rebuke or refute the conduct of a journalist or editor.

Journalists hold candles and placards during a candlelight vigil against police brutality and attacks on press freedom in Mumbai, India. Credit: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

There are also state-specific laws to regulate newspapers. For example, in 2016 the government of Jammu and Kashmir banned the newspaper Kashmir reader to circulate material likely to disturb the public peace and tranquility. This was done under the provisions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir Press and Publications Act 1989 and the Jammu and Kashmir Newspapers (Incitement to Offenses) Act 1971, read with the criminal procedure code of 1973.

In addition to laws that directly control the press, the government may also exercise control over what is published in any medium through laws relating to sedition, criminal libel, or other legal provisions. criminal under the Indian Penal Code of 1860.

What are examples of actions taken under the Cable Television Act?

In November 2016, the Union government ordered the Hindi language news channel NDTV India banned for 24 hours for allegedly revealing sensitive information during a terrorist attack. Several other channels had also broadcast similar information but were not sanctioned, illustrating the arbitrary power the government had in this affair.

In August 2021, the government informed Rajya Sabha that in five years, 204 television channels had ceased their activities due to various reasons, including non-compliance with the conditions provided by law. During the same period, the government took action in 128 cases related to alleged violations of the Program Code by television stations.

Lately, the government has also attempted to institute a similar type of control over online media as it has over television. the Information Technology Rules 2021 prescribing that digital media publishers must adhere to a code of ethics, which also contains the program code specified under the Cable Television Act as well as the standards of journalistic conduct stipulated by the Press Council of the India.

In 2020, when there were petitions against Sudarshan News for allegedly broadcasting community content, the government has said that if there is a call to regulate media, then digital media must be regulated first.