afaqs! news bureau

IBF introduces content code for non-news and current affairs channels; forms Broadcasting Content Complaints Council

The self-regulatory guidelines and the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) will come into effect from the first week of June.

After news channels, which have their own self-regulation body (News Broadcasters Association or NBA), it's the turn of non-news channels, which includes general entertainment channels, current affairs channels, children's and special interest channels, to have their very own content code. The Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) has formed self-regulatory guidelines and a complaints redressal mechanism through the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC).

The body and its guidelines will come into effect from the first week of June.

IBF introduces content code for non-news and current affairs channels; forms Broadcasting Content Complaints Council
Speaking at a conference in New Delhi, Uday Shankar, chief executive officer, STAR India and president, IBF, said, "This is truly a transformational initiative by the broadcasters. The Indian viewers and the society watch our content and trust us for what we show on television. Therefore, it will be wrong to say that we -- the broadcasters -- cannot control the content being shown on television. The regulation shall guide the broadcasting service provider offering programming service."

The BCCC will have 13 members, including justice AP Shah, former chief justice of Delhi High Court, as the chairperson of the body. The other members of BCCC will include four members from civil society (out of which two have been finalised -- Professor Anand from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Nandini Sardesai); four chairpersons/members from national level statutory commissions such as National Commission for Schedule Tribes, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Backward classes and National Human Right Commission (NHSRC); and four broadcaster members.

The redressal mechanism will be a two tier process -- providing a viewer to complain first to the broadcaster/channel (not later than a week of telecast of the offending programme). Meanwhile, each broadcaster will have to set up a Standard and Practices (S&P) department with a content auditor as the head of the department to deal with complaints received from viewers or any other body.

The content auditor will be responsible for replying to the complaint with a copy to the BCCC within a week of the complaint, failing which the viewer is free to take up the matter with the body. However, if the content auditor finds the complaint prima-facie frivolous, he or she has the right to take no action on such complaints. In case the viewer receives unsatisfactory response from the broadcaster's side, the complainant can approach the BCCC directly at an industry level.

"The body will then take cognizance of the matter and if the broadcaster is found guilty, the BCCC is free to take steps such as issue of warning, as well as remedial steps such as running an apology on the channel, and finally, suggestion of suspension of broadcasting license to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting," adds Shankar.

The guidelines will be applicable to programming that appear on all distribution platforms including cable and satellite, direct-to-home (DTH), IPTV, headend-in-the-sky (HITS), mobile, or any platform that exists now or will be created in the future.

The IBF has formed the guidelines after a consultative process that included more than 40 stakeholders from across various professions such as government, civil society, non-government organisations (NGO) and members of the broadcasting industry.

Meanwhile, the body is yet to be recognised at an industry level by the I&B Ministry. According to Shankar, the ministry has given time for the body to function properly and depending on the level of performance, the BCCC will be given an industry level recognition similar to that of ASCI and NBA.

Interestingly, a programming code currently exists under the Cable Television Networks (regulations) Acts 1995. Moreover, another set of programming guidelines was issued in 2005, which was later re-drafted in 2007 and 2008.

Punit Goenka, managing director and chief executive officer, Zee, explains, "While it is true that a content guideline has been in existence from 2005, that's an overall guideline. This case is a bit different as we have not included news channels and current affairs channels under the news genre (as there is a body by NBA to look after their affairs) and advertising (as the Advertising Standards Council of India takes care of violation of content in ads)."

Goenka adds, "Also, we have classified the programming under two categories: G (general) that can be viewed by all and R (restricted) programming which will have mature content that can be only aired between 11 pm and 5 am, rather than slotting the programmes as U (universal), UA and G, respectively."

With the guidelines being implemented from the first week of June, programmes of all channels are scheduled to go through a change of time depending on the nature of content.

While the guidelines will only be implemented on members of IBF, the BCCC is free to issue notice to non-member channels as well. Additionally, the body will have the authority to notify cable operators running their own channels. The IBF plans to set up regional offices to tap the illicit content or pirated content aired by cable operators. Additionally, the IBF plans to set up an electronic monitoring media cell to keep a tab on the content being aired.

Currently, the IBF has 20 broadcast companies that operate 270 channels as members.