A critical look at the current scenario

A look at the way the industry functions shows that broadcasters are largely self-censored and generally follow a certain content code that has been set by the broadcaster itself or its international parent Network.For e.g. Star India follows the Star TV Hong Kong code and currently certain other broadcasters follow the programming codes of the country they uplink from - mainly Hong Kong and Singapore. Singapore has a Censorship Review Committee, while Hong Kong has a Family Viewing Policy which clearly specifies the hours meant for family viewing.

This includes all original fiction shows which are commissioned by broadcasters and assigned to various production houses. Generally, all production houses follow the programming codes and norms set by the respective broadcasters. In India, there is a Cable Television Network Regulation Act, wherein certain codes have been prescribed for programmes and advertisements appearing on any Cable & Satellite TV Network. The offences under Cable Television Network Regulation Act being non-cognizable, a specific complaint has to be made by an officer authorised by the state governments. For instance, the govenment of Tamil Nadu has authorised collectors and sub-collectors for this purpose. There is a Doordarshan code which is mandatory for all Doordarshan Kendras. The same is also supposed to be followed by all C&S TV channels. However, both the codes, the Cable Television Network Regulation Act and the DD Code are not stringently followed by all broadcasters. For regulatory purposes, the content on television can be broadly divided into five different categories: Commissioned Original Programming - Fiction; Commissioned Original Programming - Non Fiction; Independent Content - Films / Trailers / Music Videos; News Programming and Advertising.

The moral brigade has at times raised concerns about the growing amount of adultery, growing alcoholism, increased violence, religious misrepresentation. This includes all Non Fiction programming such as Format Shows, Talk Shows, Music Based Shows, Reality Shows, Talent Hunts, Fashion and Lifestyle shows etc. Fashion and lifestyle channels such as Trendz and FTV have always invoked strong protests from social awareness groups and political parties. Former I&B minister Sushma Swaraj had passed strictures against FTV. This was later solved and a solution arrived wherein FTV agreed to show objectionable content such as lingerie shows, swimwear and the like only after 11:30 pm.

A lot of international shows airing on channels like AXN such as Hot N Wild, and STAR World such as Temptation Island have been found objectionable as well.

Current areas of concern for the industry

Currently, all TV Channels are required to air only those movies that have a valid Censor certificate. However, a lot of movie channels and regional language channels air late night B grade movies and movies with a lot of ‘sex‘. The channels which air such movies include South Indian channels such as Sun TV, Gemini and English movie channels such as Zee MGM. However, there is no censorship applicable on Music Videos - which today have the most objectionable and vulgar content. A lot of objections have been raised against the influx of raunchy music videos, specially the remixes such as Chadti Jawaani, Kaanta Laga etc.

However, these videos are aired regularly throughout the day on all music channels including Southern Spice, MTV, ETC, Zee Music, ITV, Channel [V]. Though, recently, some music channels have started a system of internal checks. Notably, Channel [V] has set up an internal audit system called S & P (Standards & Practices) which checks all the music videos before they air on the channel. English Movie channels such as HBO, Star Movies follow international codes and clearly specify the Age Group for whom the movie is suitable to view.

News Programming is a highly sensitive TV programming area as news content has the power to affect vital sensitive issues such as national security, communal harmony etc times, there have been cases of News Channels spreading rumours, or overplaying instances of violence or communal disharmony and misreporting on certain issues.

The TV News business requires a responsible content and programming code which should be followed by all News Channels compulsorily. There is a referral body for all Advertising produced in India, The advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) which is an independent body under the aegis of the (AAAI) Advertising Agencies Association of India. DD has a strict DD Advertising Code which clearly specifies the kind of Advertising which can be accepted across the DD network.

However, this body is basically, an addressable body only, wherein consumers can write in their grievances regarding any particular advertisement campaign. By law, all kinds of Tobacco and Liquor products are banned from any kind of Advertising on Television. However, these products heavily use surrogate forms of advertising and are still visible across TV. The Brands promote their affiliate products which still carry the mother Brand Name. For eg: Manikchand Oxyrich Mineral Water, Bacardi Blast CD‘s, Seagrams Mega Movies, McDowells No 1, WILLS Sport.

There needs to be a clear mandate and norms set for surrogate advertising of tobacco and liquor products. The smaller niche channels, like music, news channels specially carry a heavy amount of liquor and tobacco advertising. What the industry needs is an independent body which could be set up under or by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF).The body can be called the Television Standards Council of India and it will be run by a board comprising of eminent responsible professionals from the Television and Media business. The board could be reelected every two - three years.

The TSCI should set up a uniform content and programming code which would cover the entire gamut of Television content - Fiction, Non Fiction, News, Advertisement, Carriage of Music Videos and some other outside content. The guidelines and rules set up by the TSCI would have to be followed by all broadcasters compulsorily.

Solution Suggested

The government of India could actually go ahead and set up the long pending regulatory body to overlook broadcasting - the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) to overlook the television business. The distribution part of the Television business - viz Cable TV, Broadband etc could be overlooked by the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), while the BRAI could focus on content.

The code and norms to be followed would be drawn up by this body and the government would have to pass legislation on the same. Again, it would be mandatory for all broadcasters to follow the norms set up by this body. The body would do checks on the content on all channels at regular intervals. Violators of this code would be fined heavily, or punished by imposing a ban on that particular show. Agreed, there should be Censorship and Content Regulation on vital issues such as News which can affect national security; and kids should be prevented from seeing excessive violence or sexual content. But, all said and done the Code and its norms should be dynamic, keeping in mind that our society is fast evolving.

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