I&B Ministry Acquaints Supreme Court: NBDA Not Registered Under Cable TV Rules; Official Recognition Lies With NBF

I&B Ministry Acquaints Supreme Court: NBDA Not Registered Under Cable TV Rules; Official Recognition Lies With NBF

The bench stressed the necessity for an effective self-regulatory mechanism but refused intervention between news media organizations

The Supreme Court has been apprised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA) is trying to create monopolistic rights in the complaint redressal mechanism for news broadcasters, free from statutory accountability and action.

The Central Government filed an affidavit on a plea by NBDA (formerly News Broadcasters Association) challenging the critical observations made by the Bombay High Court against the media’s self-regulatory mechanism.

The observations of the High Court came in a judgment passed in January 2021 while deciding a batch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) questioning the media trial in the death case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

While hearing the matter in August, the bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra expressed its concerns about the ineffectiveness of the self-regulatory mechanism set up by NBDA, namely, the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBSA).

While acknowledging NBDA’s stance against pre-censorship or post-censorship on news channels through statutory mechanisms, the bench stressed upon the necessity for an effective self-regulatory mechanism.

CJI Chandrachud questioned the adequacy of the existing penalties imposed by NBDA, citing a need for proportional fines that reflect the profits earned from news channels by airing disputed news. The bench noted that the penalty for violations was Rs.1 lakh, a figure that was set in 2008.

In its affidavit, the Central Government stated that NBDA was a voluntary organization and did not have all broadcasters as its members. Out of 394 news broadcasting channels licensed by the government, NBDA comprised only 71 members. The Centre also pointed out that NBDA was not registered with the Central Government under the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021. It asserted that its members were not obligated to follow the rules relating to the structure of complaints redressal.

The Centre stated that it introduced the CTN (Amendment) Rules for a statutorily backed system for redressing grievances. It placed accountability and responsibility on the broadcasters and their self-regulating bodies.

The government mentioned that though it recognized the concept of self-regulation in media and gave space to the self-regulating bodies to address grievances of citizens concerning violation of the Programme/Advertising Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, such a mechanism provided no legal or statutory power to the self-regulating bodies.

Furthermore, it clarified that the three-tier grievance redressal mechanism introduced by the recent CTN (Amendment) Rules provided a statutory framework and allowed self-regulating bodies to give appropriate advice to broadcasters for rectifying their actions, in case of violation of the Programme/Advertising Code.

The Centre also made it clear that it was the final authority related to grievances regarding violation of the Codes. It held, “The role of the Central Government is in ensuring that grievances of violation of the Codes are attended to and credible action taken against the broadcasters, remain paramount and Central Government is the final authority for taking such action. Thus, by no stretch of imagination can it be said that a self-regulating body partakes the character of a statutory body/authority.”

The affidavit highlighted that there was ‘minimum interference of government authorities in the arena of journalism.’ It read that the Centre stated that only in extreme cases having adverse effects on public good, public order, national security, etc., the government stepped in.

“The Union of India has always protected journalistic freedom and has encouraged the policy of promoting self-restraint and self-regulation in the field of journalism,” it noted.

The Centre said that there was a regulatory framework in place for regulating media consisting of both ‘statutory’ and ‘self-regulation.’ The statutory regulatory framework was contained in the CTN Act and Rules and the Up-linking and Down-linking guidelines for TV channels. The government said that it imposed self-restraint and promoted a mechanism of self-regulation by media houses and journalists, but this was misunderstood by many voluntary federations.

The Centre told the apex Court that federations like NBDA insisted that instead of statutory regulations, the Centre must recognize NBSA as the sole authority in news broadcasting as a self-regulating body and notify the codes and guidelines of NBSA under the Programme Code as statutory codes.

It also informed the Court that NBDA challenged the CTN (Amendment) Rules before the Kerala High Court and informed the I&B Ministry that as per the order of the High Court, it was not obligated to follow the rules relating to the complaint’s redressal structure. The action of NBDA was a clear breach of the Court’s order, which never said that broadcasters need not comply with CTN Rules.

The affidavit further stated, “The High Court only mentioned that no coercive action would be taken against the broadcasters, which clearly in no way is tantamount to granting of any stay or relieving the broadcaster of its obligations. Accordingly, the decision of NBDA to not entertain any complaints of citizens for violation of the Programme Code under the CTN Rules was a blatant violation of law.”

The Centre pointed out that the self-regulatory body of the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), another voluntary organization, the Professional News Broadcasters Standards Authority (PNBSA), was officially recognized by the Ministry of I&B.

It informed the top Court that NBF was the only voluntary association and a self-regulatory body formally registered and officially recognized as Level-II Self-Regulatory for TV News Channels under the CTN Rules and for Digital News Platforms under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

It mentioned, “The only difference between NBDA and NBF is that whereas NBF is formally registered with the Central Government under the CTN (Amendment) Rules, 2021 and has been following the statutory regime of the Central Government, NBDA has resisted its registration under the CTN (Amendment) Rules, 2021 and has been operating beyond the gamut of the legal framework.”

However, CJI Chandrachud remarked that the Court had no intention of being caught up in the rivalry between news media organizations. It was only concerned with giving ‘some teeth’ to the self-regulatory mechanism for TV channels.

He stated, “We cannot sort out your ideological differences. We do not want this plea to get lost in the cacophony of rival organizations.”

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