Ofcom-based news code set for public debate

NEW DELHI: A clear chapter on news content code based on Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, will be put up on the website of the I&B ministry in the next few days, early enough to be well debated before the FICCI seminar on the issue on 23 July.

Sources in the ministry told, that the broad features of the news content code has been taken from Ofcom, though they clarified that "we have not bodily lifted the Ofcom regulations, but modelled it on the same principles."

One official explained: "No regulation can be lifted form one country and cultural base and grafted on to another cultural context. So we have adjusted it according to our cultural context, but it will have the same principles, especially on accuracy and privacy and such issues."

Does that mean it is a loose regulation that could be open to governmental interpretation and arbitrary clamp downs?

"We have said and I am reiterating that the government does not want to play the editor. But yes, there will be reasonable restrictions within the boundaries of Indian sensitivities," officials stressed.

The code on news, though, will not be as watertight as that of Ofcom: "We have not been so rigid like Ofcom, which makes the Ofcom regulaton so bulky… we did not want that."

The official also clarified that there will not be two separate bodies of codes, one generak and one on news. "It does not make sense, but this will be a clearly delineated chapter in the overall code."

One of the key issues as revealed by officials arises out of the government's concern over privacy, which had been breached, it feels, by TV channels covering court cases. Officials said that there are going to be parameters set for that.

However, officials sought to dismiss the fears that sting operations would not be allowed: "We have never said that, but there must not be intrusions into privacy and they must have a broader and larger social interest."

Basically that means sting expose on official corruption or issues of public interest would still be allowed, so long as they do not indulge in vulgarity or invade privacy.

Officials said also that it has to be more self-regulatory because no regulator could possibly monitor the content of 300-odd channels.

"But the concerned persons need to understand that though the debate would be started soon with the code being uploaded in the MIB website, it is not something which will be put into effect in any hurry," officials said.

The code will not come into effect unless the Broadcast Act is past and the Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India is set up, which will take some time in coming.

The reason that the ministry is hurrying with the publication on the website is that on 23 July, the Ficci is organising a government-industry interface on the issue of content.

Currently, the code is awaiting the clearance of I&B minister PR Dasmunshi. As he is deeply involved with the presidential elections, the code is expected to be put on the site around 20 July, if not earlier, sources said.

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