12 May 2023 5:16 AM GMT
Recently, Hon’ble Justice B.V. Nagarathna, speaking at an event on “A free and balanced press: sentinel of democracy” stressed the importance of a free and balanced press. She discussed the growing menace of misinformation and yellow journalism as a threat to democracy. Further, she highlighted the need for “some regulation that binds new age journalism”. The contemporary...
Recently, Hon’ble Justice B.V. Nagarathna, speaking at an event on “A free and balanced press: sentinel of democracy” stressed the importance of a free and balanced press. She discussed the growing menace of misinformation and yellow journalism as a threat to democracy. Further, she highlighted the need for “some regulation that binds new age journalism”. The contemporary relevance of these issues is such that they were also examined by the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology, culminating into its 27th Report on “Ethical Standards in Media Coverage” not long ago.
In this backdrop, the Article looks at standards applicable to conduct and content of news media — including to news media commonly labelled as “new age journalism” — as existing under various legislative statutes, rules issued thereunder and codes issued by self-regulating bodies. Further, this Article also briefly describes how these standards are enforced.
India has approximately 1.5 Lakh newspapers and periodicals registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867. They come under the ambit of the Press Council of India (“PCI”), established by the Press Council Act, 1978 (“PC Act”). The PCI is usually headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge as the Chairman, elected by a three-person committee consisting of the Vice-President of India, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and one elected person from amongst the members of PCI.
The PCI was established with the stated purpose of “preserving the freedom of the Press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India” . The “replica e-papers of Newspapers” also fall under the ambit of the Press Council Act, 1978. For the fulfilment of its stated purpose, the PCI has been assigned the task of building up a code of conduct for newspapers, news agencies and journalists under the PC Act. Pursuant to this, the Press Council of India has issued Norms of Journalistic Conduct (“PCI Norms”) which were updated in 2022 and lay down, inter alia, (i) principles and ethics, (ii) guidelines on specific issues, and (iii) good practices on journalism.
The PCI is empowered to censure newspaper/ news agency for offending against the “standards or journalistic ethics or public taste” under Section 14 of the PC Act. The Complaints filed under Section 14 of the PC Act 1978 are proceeded with in accordance with the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulation, 1979. Otherwise, the PCI is also authorized to take suo-motu cognizance of matters. Any entity or person found to be “indulg[ing] in unethical practices” by the PCI may be suspended from empanelment under the Print Media Advertisement Policy of the Government of India, 2016 issued by the Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP) for advertisements on behalf of the Government of India and Public-Sector undertakings.
A. Cable and Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and Rules therein
Besides the public service broadcaster, Doordarshan, which operates 2 news channels, there are 387 TV channels registered under “News and Current Affairs category”. The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (“CTN Act”) is the principal legislation governing matters relating to cable television networks, including television broadcasters, broadcasting “News and Current Affairs” channels. The Act prohibits transmitting (or re-transmitting) any program unless it is in conformity with the Programme Code and Advertisement Code, both of which are placed in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994 (“CTN Rules”).
The Programme Code, as laid out in Rule 6 of the CTN Rules, prohibits, inter alia, cable services programmes which: offend against good taste or decency; contain anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half truths; are likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes; criticise, malign or slander any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country; contain visuals or words which reflect a slandering, ironical and snobbish attitude in the portrayal of certain ethnic, linguistic and regional groups.
The Advertisement Code, as laid out in Rule 6 of the CTN Rules, prohibits, inter alia, cable services which derides persons on the basis of inherent characteristic, promotes violation of law and order, exploits social evils or promotes sale or consumption of specified products.
Adherence to the Programme Code and the Advertisement Code is a condition for grant (and renewal) of permission for uplinking and downlinking under Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Satellite Television Channels in India, 2022. Consequently, while applying for grant of permission under the said guidelines, the television channels are obligated to furnish an undertaking to adhere to the Programme Code and the Advertising Code necessarily. For ensuring compliance with the said codes, the Government has established Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC).
Recently, the issue of renewal of permission of license under the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines came up before the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case concerning the renewal for Madhyam Broadcasting Ltd., running the channel ‘Media One’. The Court held that security clearance is one of the conditions required to be fulfilled for renewal. However, it quashed the government decision to cancel the license for Madhyam Broadcasting, inter alia, on the grounds that “The non-renewal of permission to operate a media channel is a restriction on the freedom of the press which can only be reasonably restricted on the grounds stipulated in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The reason for denying a security clearance to MBL, that is, its alleged anti-establishment stance and the alleged link of the shareholders to JEI-H, are not legitimate purposes for the restriction of the right of freedom of speech protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.”
B. Self - Regulatory Bodies for Television Broadcasters
The Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021 establishes a three-tier grievance redressal structure (Tier I: Self-regulation by the broadcaster; Tier II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the broadcasters; and Level III: Oversight mechanism by the Central Government). For the implementation of this three-tier grievance redressal structure, all broadcasters are mandated to become a part of self-regulating bodies. These self-regulatory bodies formulate Codes of Ethics and various guidelines for adherence to such Codes.
However, this three-tier grievance redressal structure as introduced through the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021 was subjected to a constitutional challenge and consequently, compliance with it was stayed by the High Courts of Kerala and Madras. Currently, the Supreme Court is seized of the matter.
(a) News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA)
One such self-regulating body, possessing a wide membership is the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA), representing private television news, current affairs and digital broadcasters. NBDA has released the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards, laying down fundamental principles of media ethics in addition to other more context specific guidelines.
(b) Indian Broadcasting Digital Foundation (IBDF)
IBDF is another such regulatory body, comprising of members from both news and non- news channels. In June 2011, IBF constituted a self-regulatory and independent council viz. Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (“BCCC”) for providing a complaint redressal mechanism for content related complaints in the non- news and current affairs TV channels.
(c) Advertising Standards Council of India (“ASCI”)
ASCI is a self-regulatory non-governmental organisation which deals with advertising standard, as its name indicates. Its purpose is to regulate the advertisements that are broadcasted across all types of media platforms, including news channels. Its code for self-regulation has prescribed the following guiding principles for advertisements:- “(i) truthfulness, (ii) non-offensive to public, (iii) against harmful and situation; and (iv) fair in competition” along with specialised guidelines for advertisements of specific categories.  Further, it has established the Consumer Complaints Council which is a grievance redressal mechanism for complaints related to violations arising out of its self-regulation Code. 
Online publishers of news and news affairs
A. IT Rules, 2021
Earlier, online news publishers functioned in a relatively laissez-faire regulatory space. The CTN Act and CTN Rules, including the Programme Code and the Advertising Code did not apply to digital news publishers. However, in 2021 the Ministry of Information and Technology issued the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethic Code) Rule, 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”), notified under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The Rules, inter alia, lay down a Code of Ethics for publishers of online news and current affairs content. The Code of Ethics incorporates (i) Norms of Journalistic Conduct by the Press Council of India, and (ii) Programme Code under CTN Rules, and makes them applicable to online publishers.
B. Self - Regulatory Bodies for Online publishers of news and news affairs
Similar to the CTN Rules, 2021, IT Rules 2021 establish a three-tier grievance redressal structure and make it mandatory to become a part of self-regulating bodies. These self-regulating bodies have further issued Codes of Ethics and various guidelines. IT Rules, 2021 have also been subjected to constitutional challenges, resulting in stay orders by various High Courts, including High Court of Kerala, Madras High Court, and the High Court of Bombay. Currently, the Supreme Court is seized of the matter.
(a) Digital News Publishers Association (“DNPA”)
DNPA is one of the prominent self-regulatory bodies with a wide membership of digital news publishers. It has published Digital Code of Ethics, which inter alia, (i) highlights value of accuracy, transparency and fairness, (ii) stresses on incorporating other replies in publications and correcting errors, (iii) respecting intellectual property rights, and (iv) emphasizes special care in cases of criminal offences, especially sexual offences.
(b) Advertising Standards Council of India (“ASCI”)
The ambit of ASCI and its regulations in advertising cover both the offline space and the online space. For this purpose, they collaborate with TAM Media Research to monitor digital media platforms, including, inter alia, news portals.
“Fake News Affects Democracy; Self Regulation By Electronic Media Ineffective : Supreme Court Judge Justice BV Nagarathna” available at <https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/fake-news-affects-democracy-self-regulation-by-electronic-media-ineffective-supreme-court-judge-justice-bv-nagarathna-227562> ↑
27th Report of the Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology on “Ethical Standards in Media Coverage” available at <https://loksabhadocs.nic.in/lsscommittee/Communications%20and%20Information%20Technology/17_Communications_and_Information_Technology_27.pdf> ↑
“More than a Lakh Newspapers & Periodicals are registered in the country” available at <https://www.newslaundry.com/2015/05/29/more-than-a-lakh-newspapers-periodicals-are-registered-in-the-country> ↑
“Regulation of Media in India- A Brief Overview” , PRS India available at ↑
Available at https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1744/1/A1978__37.pdf ↑
Section 13(b), the Press Council Act, 1978. ↑
Available at https://www.presscouncil.nic.in/ViewPdfContent.aspx?Page=DocumentsOfPCI&Title=Norms% 20of%20Journalists%20Conduct,%202022 ↑
Section 14, the Press Council Act, 1978. ↑
“Functions of the Press Council” available at ↑
Clause 25, The Print Media Advertisement Policy of the Government of India - 2016 available at ↑
Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, available at <https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1928/1/A1995-07.pdf> ↑
Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, available at <https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/pac1.pdf> ↑
Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994, available at <https://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/CableTelevisionNetworksRules1994.pdf> ↑
Rule 6(a), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 6(d), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 6(e), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 6(i), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 6(m), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 7(2)(i), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 7(2)(iii), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 7(2)(vii), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
Rule 7(2)(viii), Cable Television Networks (Regulation Rules), 1994. ↑
11(3)(c) of the Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Satellite Television Channels in India, 2022. ↑
Form 1A of Application for grant of permission for uplinking, available at https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/Uplink_and_downlink_form_1%20%281%29.pdf; Form 1A of Application for grant of permission for uplinking, available at https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/Downlink_form.pdf ↑
I&B min has set up electronic media monitoring centre to check violation of programme, advertising codes' available at <https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/i-b-min-has-set-up-electronic-media-monitoring-centre-to-check-violation-of-programme-advertising-codes-118071901424_1.html> ↑
Madhyam Broadcasting Ltd. V Union of India & Ors, Civil Appeal No. 8129/22 ↑
Rule 15, Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021. ↑
LiveLaw Media Pvt Ltd v Union of India, WP (C) No. 6272/21 before the Hon’ble Kerala High Court; The News Broadcasters Association v The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Writ Petition (Civil) 14239 of 2021; Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea Media Pvt Ltd v Union of India, WP (L) No. 14172/21 before the Hon’ble Bombay High Court ↑
Union of India v The Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation, SLP (Civil) No. 006722/2022. ↑
Section 8, The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code)
Rules, 2021. ↑
Rule 9, The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code)
Live Law Media Private Limited v Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 6272 of 2021. ↑
T.M Krishna v Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 12515 of 2021 and Digital News Publishers Association and Anr v Union of India and ors, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13055 of 2021. ↑
Nikhil Wagle vs Union of India, PIL (L) /14204/2021 (with W.P.(L) No. 14172/2021) and The Leaflet (Nineteenone Media Private Limited) & Anr vs Union of India WPL/14172/2021. ↑
Union of India vs. Live Law Media Private Limited, SLP(C) No. 011163/ 2021 ↑
“ASCI expands ad monitoring to 3000 digital media platforms” available at https://www.exchange4media.com/advertising-news/asci-expands-ad-monitoring-to-3000-digital-platforms-to-track-misleading-ads-107323.html. ↑
Author is a student of Class XII, Vasant Valley School, New Delhi