The Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) continuously monitors all television broadcasts in India to ensure compliance with the programme code under the Cable Television Regulations Act. It has been set up as a proactive system of government censorship but also entertains complaints from the general public for any breach of the programming code. With respect to the process of taking in complaints for such breaches, the Supreme Court of India recently passed some observations which are relevant to consider.
In the batch of petitions titled as Common Cause (A regd. society) v. Union of India (W.P. (c) No. 387/2000) the Supreme Court of India on January 12, 2017 passed a direction that,
“However, the above mechanism, is not known to the general public. We are therefore of the view, that the same needs adequate publication. We, therefore hereby direct the Union of India, to publish the mechanism, which has been brought to our notice, and is partly extracted herienabove. This would enable complainant, to air their grievances, before the appropriate forum and to obtain a determination thereof, at the hands of the concerned Competent Authority.”.
It also suggested that,
“the Central Government, having framed Rules in the nature of Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, would be well advised, to frame similar Rules, in exercise of the power vested with it under Section 22 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, to formalise the complaint redressal mechanism, including the period of limitation within which a complaint can be filed, and the concerned statutory authority which shall adjudicate upon the same, including the appellate and other redressal mechanisms leading to a final conclusive determination. We, therefore, hereby recommend, that the Central Government…. deliberate on the issue, and tale conscious decision thereon, and to finale a similar statutory framework for radio programs, as well. Till the above issue is considered and finalised, the existing mechanism of complaint redressal, shall remain in place.”
- Wide publicity to the EMMC will mean a higher number of complaints being filed against television broadcasts. This may unwittingly increase broadcast censorship given the substantive criteria under Cable Television Regulation Rules is vague.
- The suggestion for making rules and a defined legal procedure for making complaints against television and radio broadcasts will further institutionalise the process of viewer/listener complaints. It may even lead to limitations on the procedural right to complain as the court has hinted at periods of limitations and a process for appeals (which channels may avail).