Amid raging controversy over regulation of electronic media in India, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday recommended to the government to establish a statutory body to regulate the broadcast media, saying state intervention was necessary.
"Absence of state intervention on its own is no guarantee of a rich media environment. On the contrary: to promote a media environment characterized by pluralism and diversity, State intervention is necessary," a bench headed by justice Pradeep Nandrajog said.
Recommending that a statutory regulatory body "consisting of men and women of eminence" be constituted, the bench said, security of tenure should be provided for its members so that they were free from government interference.
"Till this happens…as a stop gap mechanism the self-regulatory body formed by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation named 'Broadcasting Consumers Complaint Committee'…recognized by the Union of India as a body competent to take cognizance of and decide complaints pertaining to violation of the law by broadcasters…its (BCCC's) decisions shall be treated by the Union of India as the foundation to take appropriate action and pass necessary directions as also orders against the offender," the HC said.
The bench was deciding a PIL against 'Emotional Atyachar' telecast on UTV Bindass in 2010. It asked the BCCC, an industry body meant for self regulation, to decide the complaints of "vulgarity" and "obscenity" against reality show and the Centre would enforce the decision.
"This is a landmark verdict which would ensure that TV content is regulated through a body eminent people and not left to self-regulation, which is an oxymoron," advocate Rahul Mehra, who represented the petitioners, told HT.
Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju has been demanding that electronic media should be brought under PCI's jurisdiction. But the government maintained that it favoured self-regulation by the industry.
The court pointed out there was no regulatory body constituted under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, The Cable Television Network Rules 1994, Programme Code and Advertising Code and in case of violation of these Acts and Rules it was left to the executive to ensure that the mandate of the legislation was complied with. But such a situation would be an anathema in a democratic set up inasmuch as it would put broadcast industry under the direct control of the state, it noted.
"To guarantee pluralism and diversity of opinion requires provisions for public broadcasting, commercial broadcast and print media and community-based broadcast. To ensure media pluralism may require the application of competition law by the State to prevent monopoly of forms of communications, airwaves etc.," the bench said.
Noting that freedom of expression was not an absolute right, the bench, however, said, any reasonable restrictions could be imposed only by legislation.
Commenting on the current electronic media scene, the HC said, there was desperate rush to grab eyeballs which had led the broadcast media to sully itself with sensationalization by adding colour and spice to events and transgressing individual privacy.