TV channels to air public service content: New rule

Updated on Nov 10, 2022 02:13 PM IST

The Union information & broadcasting ministry notified changes to guidelines for channels that broadcast from India (uplink) and those that are relayed to Indian audiences through a satellite downlink.

Among the other key changes was doing away the need for permission before events can be telecast live, although the government will still need to be notified of it.(PTI File Photo) PREMIUM
Among the other key changes was doing away the need for permission before events can be telecast live, although the government will still need to be notified of it.(PTI File Photo)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi

New government rules make it mandatory for most television channels to air 30 minutes of “public service” content on issues of national importance and social relevance, and have created a new category for “devotional” channels that will be allowed to uplink live content for free.

The Union information & broadcasting ministry notified changes to guidelines for channels that broadcast from India (uplink) and those that are relayed to Indian audiences through a satellite downlink. Officials said the changes were meant to improve the ease of doing business and simplify compliance requirements.

The rules state that “in the best interest of the society”, any entity with permission to uplink and downlink a channel from and to India (except foreign channels), “may undertake public service broadcasting for a minimum period of 30 minutes in a day on themes of national importance and of social relevance”.

The channels can tweak their programming schedules to fit such programming in, a statement by the government on the new rules said, adding that exceptions applied only in case where it was not feasible, “such as in the case of sports channels”.

The public service content can include programming on education and spread of literacy, agriculture and rural development, health and family welfare, science and technology, welfare of women, welfare of the weaker sections of the society, protection of environment and of cultural heritage, and national integration.

Among the other key changes was doing away the need for permission before events can be telecast live, although the government will still need to be notified of it.

The changes also notified a new classification for channels that “predominantly broadcast devotional/spiritual/yoga content” as devotional channels. As per the 2011 guidelines, only news and non-news channels existed.

“The ministry is now thinking that there should be a separate criterion for what constitutes a devotional channel and what it rules it will have to follow,” an official said on the condition of anonymity. “The issue recently came up before the ministry and while the ministry has a list of which channels it identifies as devotional, a separate category or subcategory within the non-news channels will have to be formed.”

These, unlike other non-news channels, will be allowed to uplink live content for free. A national non-news channel meanwhile has to pay 1 lakh per channel per day and a regional channel will pay 50,000 per channel per day.

Devotional channels have increasingly grown in viewership since 2016, data collected by the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC) shows. While in 2016, the number of devotional channels watermarked were just three with average weekly impressions of 22.2 million, as per BARC data, the number rose to 11 with an average weekly impression of 97 million in 2017. In 2018, they had a weekly impression of 119.8 million.

Eventually, devotional channels will be required to register with the ministry and an advisory or guidelines for them will be formulated for them, the official added.

According to a second official familiar with the matter, the concept existed with the ministry but the channels were not separately demarcated by law. “Now they are being clearly defined,” the second official said.

The new framework also includes allowing channels to change language without prior permission (but a mere intimation needs to be sent), providing the option of uplinking from more than one teleport/satellite, and allowing foreign channels to uplink from Indian teleports for being downlinked outside India, which was so far barred.

According to Paritosh Joshi, an independent media and communications consultant, some aspects need more clarity, especially on the change for permissions for live broadcast for an event. “You have to anyway tell the government what the event is. It’s merely semantics because the government is not saying when the information has to be given,” he said. “The question to ask is a newscaster allowed to go live or not immediately.”

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