On eve of content code meet, TV Inc gears up for change

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | June 01, 2007
While there is general consensus that a code of content regulation will bring some order to Indian television, there are fears that news will be hit by possible curbs on sting operations

Working towards & #BANNER1 & # rating-based TV programming in India, the government is mulling over a comprehensive code of content regulation for broadcasters, which will dictate what broadcasters can - and can't - do on television. The Information and Broadcasting government has called a meeting with all broadcasters on Friday to give shape to the code, which will be part of the new Broadcast Regulation Bill to be introduced in Parliament during the monsoon session.

The meeting is important because its outcome will set clear parameters for decency of content telecast across India on different channels. It will also bring to the fore the debate over the role of the state in deciding what content is 'fit to air'. Says a broadcaster who will be attending the meet tomorrow: "The meeting will shape the future of Indian television. There are a lot more issues in it than merely curbs on sting journalism and obscenity. Content regulation is the only way out of the current mess Indian television is in."

As always, these issues attract many opinions. "Surely, the new code of content regulation will bring sanity. Proper classification of channels and programmes will definitely make Indian television a lot more organised," says Mona Jain, executive V-P, Zenith Optimedia.

According to a report in 'Hindustan Times', the proposed code of regulation includes time-based airing of adult content. It talks about 'A' certified content to be telecast between 11pm and 4am only, which media experts feel is the way to go. Currently, only 'UA' certified content is allowed on Indian television and there is no place for 'A' certified content. "At least, I'll be sure now when I can watch the content, which I can't watch with my kids around. I think industry has no reason to complain now," says Jain.

Arnab Goswami
But the industry is definitely not comfortable with another proposal that seeks to curb sting operations in the name of protecting the privacy of individuals. "Editors and news channels should restrict themselves rather than the government curbing their powers," says Arnab Goswami, V-P and editor-in-chief, Times Now. The proposed code also talks about setting up an ombudsman to monitor content.

When information and broadcasting minister PR Dasmunsi banned the Sony-owned AXN channel last March on the grounds that its 'World's Sexiest Advertisements' was "a programme against good taste or decency and is likely to adversely affect public morality", it led to raised voices against the government acting as the guardian of Indian morality. Their argument: In a democracy, it is absolutely imperative that people have the right to read and watch anything so long as it does not adversely affect anyone else. And this should include so-called "morally objectionable" content as well.

The call for a code is also an answer to government action against individual channels. A decade ago, a Russian channel, TB6, was blocked from Indian airwaves for broadcasting semi-pornographic programmes after midnight. Similarly, during the NDA regime, FTV was banned for its midnight lingerie shows.