Kickstarting the discussion was a keynote address by Justice A P Shah, former chief justice of Delhi High Court and chairman of Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), an independent body set up by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation. Shah averred that if television channels do not adopt a self-regulatory mechanism, the state will have to step in, which is dangerous for the democratic system of the country.
He added that a balance should be struck between freedom of expression and creativity to ensure that the consumer gets the best of entertainment and the channel registers sustainable growth.
Shah said, "The media, especially television news channels, are in a rat race today to get maximum eyeballs. In this pursuit, they sensationalise the information and do not verify their sources, thus leaving an impact on the credibility of the institution of press. Unfortunately, news content is lost in the business of breaking news."
Joshi started the discussion with the view that the general perception among television viewers in India is that entertainment channels cannot be trusted to bring quality content, which is within the realms of decency.
Responding to Joshi, Nambissan was of the view that of late, GECs have been careful and have imposed a policy of self-regulation as an initiative. "For long, the television industry had not had a regulatory body that would lay down guidelines. And in such a case, larger GECs have adopted in-house regulation for their content."
Prof. Askin said that as far as television channels are concerned, a balance is needed. "Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right. And television channels, too, can argue on the back of that. But it is extremely important for them to maintain a balancing act and feature quality, unbiased content without offending any sensibility."
Agreeing with Askin's view about a balancing act, Dhotre said that India's diversity is a major factor. He said, "India is so diverse with respect to religion, faith and beliefs that to provide content appropriate for one group, one may end up offending another group. Therefore, as a channel, we take extreme care before taking content in one language to another."
Commenting on the role of BCCC, Chahal said, "In the last nine months, we have received over 4,200 complaints about television channel content and about 50 per cent of them are either frivolous or irrelevant. I believe that by addressing the grievances received in the last few months, we have substantially helped TV channels improve the content."
Joshi highlighted the lack of pro-activeness of the Indian viewers. He said, "As viewers, we crib about the content shown on television but do not take any initiative to file a complaint with the BCCC."
Chahal added, "Viewers do take note of the scroll on the bottom screens of the TV channel but many of them are unable to file complaints as they do not have access to internet and emails. As a measure, we will introduce post boxes, too, to ensure that people can file complaints regarding inappropriate content."