In India, broadcasting through cable television is the most dominant medium for the communication of knowledge and information to the public at large. In the early days of the introduction of cable television, the Government failed to put a check on the transmission and broadcast of cable television through foreign satellites owing to a lack of regulation and infrastructure.
The issue of the necessity of obtaining a license for operating cable networks came up before the Rajasthan High Court in the case of Shiv Cable TV System v. the State of Rajasthan, AIR 1993 Raj. 1997. This case highlighted the need for a framework for the regulation of cable networks in India, which then resulted in the enactment of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
On June 17, 2021, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting published has introduced amendments to the Cable Television Network Rules, 1995. As per the Government, these amendments will implement “accountability and responsibility on broadcasters and their self-regulating bodies”. Following are some of the salient features of the amendments which have been introduced:
Violation of Programme Code and Advertising Code
The Rules specify that if the Central Government may prohibit transmission or re-transmission by a cable operator (after giving them an opportunity of being heard) if it believes that the cable operator has violated the Programme Code or the Advertising Code.
Grievance Redressal Mechanism
The most prominent change brought about by this amendment is the introduction of a three-level grievance redressal mechanism with the following three levels:
- Self-Regulation by broadcasters
- Self-regulation bodies of the broadcasters
- Oversight Mechanism
Self-Regulation by broadcasters
The Rules empower the viewers to lodge a grievance alleging violation of the Advertising and Programme Codes. The broadcasters are required to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint a grievance officer for redressal of any complaints (the details of which should be suitably published by the broadcaster). The broadcasters are required to acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve the same within 15 days from the date of receipt of the same.
Self-regulation body of the broadcasters
If the complainant is not satisfied with the Broadcaster’s decision or if their grievance has not been resolved within the specified time frame, they can appeal to the self-regulatory bodies of the broadcaster. These self-regulatory bodies are required to adjudicate and decide the complaint within 60 days and advise the broadcasters regarding the same. The self-regulating is empowered to issue the following guidance or advisories to the broadcaster: (i) advisory, warning, censure, admonish or reprimand; or (ii) an apology to be telecast by the broadcaster; or (iii) include a warning card or a disclaimer; or (iv) in case of any content where it is satisfied that there is a need for taking action to delete or modify content, refer it to the Central Government for the consideration of the oversight mechanism.
Centre’s Oversight Mechanism
The third tier in the grievance redressal mechanism is responsible for hearing appeals from the decisions of the self-regulating bodies by designating the same to the Inter-Departmental Committee.
In addition to this, the oversight mechanism has also been given the power to: publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices for such bodies; (ii) establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances or complaints; (iii) issue appropriate guidance and advisories to broadcasters; (iv) issue appropriate orders and directions to broadcasters for maintenance and adherence to the Programme Code and the Advertising Code; (v) take action for non-compliance of its orders or directions and that of the self-regulating body.
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 which regulates the service of cable television networks and related matters, was introduced to address the issues regarding the broadcasting of content (and the manner thereof). While the establishment of a grievance redressal mechanism will put an additional compliance burden on the broadcasters, at the same time it will also provide a forum for the viewers at large for their grievances to be addressed expeditiously. It is expected that with the introduction of this grievance redressal mechanism, there would be a substantial reduction in the judiciary’s burden.