Note – This is not an opinion piece. If factsheets bore you, you may stop reading here.
What are Programme And Advertising Codes?
They are what the TV channels operating in India have to follow as part of THE CABLE TELEVISION NETWORKS RULES, 1994 . Rule 6 of the guide says –
(1) No programme should be carried in the cable service which:-
(a) Offends against good taste or decency;
(b) Contains criticism of friendly countries;
(c) Contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes;
(d) Contains anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half truths;
(e) is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes;
(f) Contains anything amounting to contempt of court;
(g) Contains aspersions against the integrity of the President and Judiciary;
(h) Contains anything affecting the integrity of the Nation;
(i) Criticises, maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country ;
(j) Encourages superstition or blind belief;
(k) Denigrates women through the depiction in any manner of the figure of a women, her form or body or any part thereof in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals;
(l) Denigrates children;
(m) Contains visuals or words which reflect a slandering, ironical and snobbish attitude in the portrayal of certain ethnic, linguistic and regional groups ;
(n) Contravenes the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
(o) is not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition.
“Provided that no film or film song or film promo or film trailer or music video or music albums or their promos, whether produced in India or abroad, shall be carried through cable service unless it has been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) as suitable for unrestricted public exhibition in India”.
Explanation – For the purpose of this clause, the expression “unrestricted public exhibition” shall have the same meaning as assigned to it in the Cinematograph Act, 1952 (37 of 1952);
(2) The cable operator should strive to carry programmes in his cable service which project women in a positive, leadership role of sobriety, moral and character building qualities.
(3) No cable operator shall carry or include in his cable service any programme in respect of which copyright subsists under the Copyright Act, 1957 (14 of 1957) unless he has been granted a licence by owners of copyright under the Act in respect of such programme.
(4) Care should be taken to ensure that programmes meant for children do not contain any bad language or explicit scenes of violence.
(5) Programmes unsuitable for children must not be carried in the cable service at times when the largest numbers of children are viewing.
(6) No cable operator shall carry or include in his cable service any television broadcast or channel, which has not been registered by the Central Government for being viewed within the territory of India”.
“Provided that a cable operator may continue to carry or include in his cable service any Television broadcast or channel, whose application for registration to the Central Government was made on or before 11th May ,2006 and is under consideration, for a period of three months from the date of this notification, or till such registration has been granted or refused, whichever is earlier.”
“Provided further that channels uplinking from India, in accordance with permission for uplinking granted before 2nd December, 2005, shall be treated as “registered” television channels and can be carried or included in the cable service.”
What does the amendment of 2015 say?
The following amendment was made to the rules in 2015 which was added after clause(o) of Rule 6, sub-point 1.
“In the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, in rule 6, in sub-rule (1), after the Explanation to clause(o), the following shall be inserted, namely:––
‘(p) contains live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces, wherein media coverage shall be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate Government, till such operation concludes.
Explanation.– For the purposes of this clause, it is clarified that “anti-terrorist operation” means such operation undertaken to bring terrorists to justice, which includes all engagements involving justifiable use of force between security forces and terrorists.’”
Why was the amendment made?
In the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Supreme court in its judgment observed –
402. Before parting with the transcripts, we feel compelled to say a few words about the way the terrorist attacks on Taj Hotel, Hotel Oberoi and Nariman House were covered by the mainstream, electronic media and shown live on the TV screen. From the transcripts, especially those from Taj Hotel and Nariman House, it is evident that the terrorists who were entrenched at those places and more than them, their collaborators across the border were watching the full show on TV. In the transcripts there are many references to the media reports and the visuals being shown on the TV screen. The collaborators sitting in their hideouts across the border came to know about the appellant being caught alive from Indian TV: they came to know about the killing of high ranking police officers also from Indian TV. At one place in the transcript, the collaborators and the terrorists appear to be making fun of the speculative report in the media that the person whose dead body was found in Kuber was the leader of the terrorist group whom his colleagues had killed for some reason before leaving the boat . At another place in the transcript the collaborators tell the terrorists in Taj Hotel that the dome at the top (of the building) had caught fire. The terrorists holed up in some room were not aware of this. The collaborators further advise the terrorists that the stronger they make the fire the better it would be for them. At yet another place the terrorists at Hotel Taj tell the collaborators that they had thrown a grenade. The Collaborators reply, “the sound of the grenade has come, they have shown the grenade, the explosion has taken place, people are wounded” . At yet another place the collaborators tell the terrorists at Hotel Oberoi that the troops were making their position very strong on the roof of the building . At yet another place the collaborators tell the terrorists at Taj Hotel the exact position taken by the policemen (close to a building that belonged to the navy but was given to the civilians) and from where they were taking aim and firing at them (the terrorists) and advised them the best position for them to hit back at those policemen. There are countless such instances to show that the collaborators were watching practically every movement of the security forces that were trying to tackle the terrorists under relentless gun fire and throwing of grenades from their end.
403. Apart from the transcripts, we can take judicial notice of the fact that the terrorists attacks at all the places, in the goriest details, were shown live on the Indian TV from beginning to end almost non-stop. All the channels were competing with each other in showing the latest developments on a minute to minute basis, including the positions and the movements of the security forces engaged in flushing out the terrorists. The reckless coverage of the terrorist attack by the channels thus gave rise to a situation where on the one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact position or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed and on the other hand the positions of the security forces, their weapons and all their operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists.
404. In these appeals, it is not possible to find out whether the security forces actually suffered any casualty or injuries on account of the way their operations were being displayed on the TV screen. But it is beyond doubt that the way their operations were freely shown made the task of the security forces not only exceedingly difficult but also dangerous and risky.
405. Any attempt to justify the conduct of the TV channels by citing the right to freedom of speech and expression would be totally wrong and unacceptable in such a situation. The freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression.
406. The shots and visuals that were shown live by the TV channels could have also been shown after all the terrorists were neutralized and the security operations were over. But, in that case the TV programmes would not have had the same shrill, scintillating and chilling effect and would not have shot up the TRP ratings of the channels. It must, therefore, be held that by covering live the terrorists attack on Mumbai in the way it was done, the Indian TV channels were not serving any national interest or social cause. On the contrary they were acting in their own commercial interests putting the national security in jeopardy.
407. It is in such extreme cases that the credibility of an institution is tested. The coverage of the Mumbai terror attack by the mainstream electronic media has done much harm to the argument that any regulatory mechanism for the media must only come from within.
What happened during the Pathankot attack?
A reporter of NDTV India during the coverage of 2016 Pathankot attack reported – “Two terrorists are still alive and they are next to an ammunitions depot. And the jawans who are under fire, they are concerned that if the militants make it to the ammunitions depot, then it will be even harder to neutralise them.”
Additionally, the news channel allegedly gave out information regarding ammunition stockpiled in the airbase, MiGs, fighter planes, rocket launchers, mortars, helicopters, fuel tanks, details of schools and residential areas located at the airbase during the coverage.
What did the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting do?
A notice was served to the channel for giving out strategically sensitive information which could potentially help perpetrators blunt out the rescue and counter operations. The channel was found to be violating the clause (p) of 6.1. As such, the inter-ministerial committee suggested a 30 days off-air time for the channel. However, since this was the first application of the amendment to the rule, the committee deemed it fit to take a more lenient view and has ordered the channel to go off-air for 1 day with effect from 00:01 hrs on 9th November to 00:01 hrs of 10th November.
Is this the first time a channel has been asked to do so?
Why am I telling you all of the above?
The coverage of the I&B ministry order towards 24 hours off-air time for NDTV India has largely been biased and poisonously opinionated. It has been mired down by the violation-of-freedom-of-speech rhetoric. Anyone speaking for the order and against NDTV is being called out as a Bhakt and troll. I wanted to lay out facts and let the readers decide for themselves. So here you go – take some time, think and decide where freedom of expression trespasses its line of control and becomes the mother of anarchy.
Further reading & Credits – Scroll piece on the development