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Guest Times: Violations cost 30 times more for a GEC vis-à-vis News!

Rohit Bansal, a former senior broadcast journalist, points out the dichotomy in penalties for violations by channels depending on their genre 

Delhi | January 13, 2014

Rohit Bansal Rohit Bansal

On July 21 last year, The Times of India wrote that entertainment channels can be fined up to Rs 30 lakh for violations of the programming code (read the story here http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-07-21/news-and-gossip/40696545_1_self-regulatory-body-channels-broadcasting-content-complaints-council).

“This move was formalized in a meeting of the IBF (Indian Broadcasting Foundation) Board held on July 19. Any channel found violating the advisories or guidelines or repeatedly flouting the programme code can be fined to the tune of Rs 30 lakh by the council. This move will be implemented soon," Justice AP Shah, Chairman of BCCC, the entertainment television sector’s self-regulation body, told the newspaper.

Just a few days later, as co-host of a media round table organised by Observer Research Foundation, I had occasion to raise the matter with Justice RV Raveendran, who is Justice Shah’s counterpart in the news television sector.

He was still settling down in the assignment, coming as it did after the sudden demise of Justice JS Verma, but he left me with an impression that he saw merit in aligning penalties that news broadcasters under his writ need to pay as financial penalty.

(Penalty for news broadcasters has remained pegged at Rs 1 lakh since the inception of their association, the News Broadcasters Association, and the rules the NBA created for the News Broadcasting Standards Authority way back in 2008.)

On the sidelines of the aforementioned round table, I also noticed Justice Shah and Justice Raveendran discussing this.

But as things stand five months later, NBSA continues to peg the maximum penalty at Rs 1 lakh. That’s what it has charged three of its member news channels – Aaj Tak, CNN IBN and Sakshi TV – for violating broadcasting guidelines.

CNN-IBN has been found guilty in two cases. The first is by Mallige Medical Centre administrator RK Lal about a show titled ‘Bangalore woman incapacitated after botched surgery’ where the channel was found violating the general guidelines and showcasing a one-sided story without contacting the hospital authorities. Here, the NBSA has asked the channel to tender an apology by airing it once on January 10 stating: “CNN-IBN regrets and apologizes for airing the programme titled ‘Bangalore woman incapacitated after botched surgery’ without ascertaining the version of Mallige Medical Centre on 29 to 30 March, 2013 and 1 April, 6 April and 7 April 2013.”

In the second case, CNN-IBN has been found guilty of revealing the identity of the father of a rape victim during the protests at India Gate on December 23. The channel has denied violating provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act in its act of revealing the father’s name but NBSA has asked it to remove the video from the website by citing it as a violation of media ethics.

In another indictment, Aaj Tak has been found guilty of breaching ethical conduct in two cases. A complaint lodged by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) General Manager Pradip Kundu claims that sting operation ‘Dalal Junction’ was aired without verifying the facts with IRCTC. Here, the NBSA has ordered the channel to tender an apology for five consecutive days from January 13 to 17 at 6:00 PM by running an apology scroll on full screen in large font size with a voiceover in slow speed.

The second complaint is against a show titled ‘Vardat’ which, according to the petitioner, was aired with incomplete information. The NBSA has asked the channel to run the unedited version of the complainant for three minutes followed by an apology similar to the above case. A penalty of Rs 1 lakh has been levied on the channel for wishful violation of conduct in family/matrimonial issues.

As for Sakshi TV, the case against the news channel was filed by four students of NALSAR on a show titled ‘Drunken girl’s hulchul midnight’. The petitioners succesfully argued that Sakshi TV portrayed them in a derogatory manner and its act of pushing the camera in their car for capturing the visuals violated media ethics. NBSA has slapped a penalty of Rs 1 lakh and instructed that an apology be run on January 15, 16, 17, 2014 in both English and Telugu.

(The commentator is CEO & Co-Founder, India Strategy Group, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting and has previously served on the NBA Board. tweets @therohitbansal)

(The column first appeared in www.governancenow.com) 

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