The Indian television space has about a dozen channels which telecast religious content, thus making it a different genre altogether. These include channels like Aastha TV (launched in 2000), Sadhna TV (2003), Zee Jagran (2004) and Bhakti TV (2007), amongst others. Interestingly, other channels like Hindi news channels and a few general entertainment channels also depend on this kind of content for their programming line-up in the wee hours of the morning.
The advisory reads, "Whereas, it has come to the notice of this Ministry that a number of TV channels are telecasting programmes which appear to encourage superstition and blind belief. Unsubstantiated claims are made in advertisements/advertorials about the impact of a product. The ordinary and gullible audience is trapped easily believing them to be true. Such advertisements/advertorials, therefore, are not only misleading, they also appear to encourage superstition and blind belief among the viewers.
"It has also been noticed by this Ministry that most advertorials relating to Astrology,Vastu, so called discourses by Gurus and self-proclaimed healers are being shown for hours together in such a way that might lead viewers to believe they are watching programmes, even though they are actually watching advertisements. This is a complete violation of the Advertising Code, particularly rule 7(5), contained in the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994."
However, it may be noted that there is no clarity on exactly which kind of shows are to be addressed. Rakesh Gupta, MD, Sadhna TV mentions that the advisory is about the interactive shows wherein solutions are offered to the individual problems of the viewers who call up the gurus being featured on the channel.
He adds, "We need to discuss the advisory in detail with the ministry, because it has been proven time and again that astrology is an old ancient science."
It is learnt that while the news channels and the general entertainment channels run these kind of programmes for about one-three hours a day, the religious channels telecast the content for 24 hours. Of these 24 hours, close to eight hours is the interactive calling content. It is pertinent to note that the calls made to the channels cost much higher than the regular tariff.
The advisory also mentions the earlier advisories were sent to all TV channels, Indian Broadcasting Foundation (lBF), News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) on May, 13, 2010 and then a letter to all these parties on November, 11, 2011. The letter was sent 'advising them to telecast programmes with due care and maturity, particularly in respect of programmes that encourage superstition and blind belief, strictly adhering to the programme code prescribed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and rules framed thereunder.'
The advisory requires all the TV channels including news and current affairs channels to send a compliance report within a period of 15 (fifteen) days from the date of issue of the Advisory, which is June, 7, 2013.
An India TV official suggests that a correspondence needs to be established between the broadcasters and MIB in this regard. He adds, "Astrology is a phenomenon across the globe. It's not an Indian occurrence."
A media observer points out that "The ministry itself created the genre (called religious). They always knew what kind of content will be telecast on these channels. Superstition and religion are very subjective and one person's religion can be a superstition for someone else. The advisory needs more clarity on the issue."