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HomeNATIONSC ask broadcasts to suggest strengthen self-regulatory mechanism for TV news channels

SC ask broadcasts to suggest strengthen self-regulatory mechanism for TV news channels

The News Broadcasters Association petitioned the court in response to a Bombay High Court judgement, prompting the court to issue its order.

The Supreme Court wants to make news channel’s self-regulatory systems stronger in order to maintain order while defending freedom of speech and expression. The court scheduled the matter for hearing in four weeks and requested comments from two groups that represent news networks.

The News Broadcasters Association petitioned the court in response to a Bombay High Court judgement, prompting the court to issue its order. News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), the self-regulatory body for the NBA, has been determined to be ineffectual. The court also gave the competing News Broadcasters Federation permission to submit its rules.

Policing of on-air programme material

The Supreme Court stated that it intends to enforce stronger self-regulatory mechanisms that will give greater teeth for policing on-air programme material in order to bring discipline to news channels while maintaining their right to freedom of speech and expression.

The two representative organisations for news channels, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), were asked by a bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud to submit independent suggestions on how to strengthen the system for dealing with errant channels. The matter was set for hearing in four weeks.

The JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra justices were also present on the bench, “The first tier of regulation is self-regulation by broadcasters. We want to strengthen the first tier itself that protects their right under Constitution Article 19(1)(a) – right to free speech and expression – and brings discipline.”

Petition filed by NBA

The decision was made in response to a petition filed by NBA, now known as the News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA), to appeal a Bombay High Court decision from January 18, 2021 that refused to recognise the legal sanctity of the self-regulatory mechanism used by the news channel associations to regulate themselves.

The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), a 14-year-old regulating body overseeing the NBA, is managed by a former Supreme Court justice. Although not all channels are members of NBA, the authority may fine violators up to Rs. 1 lakh, a measure that the Supreme Court deemed useless.

As the case was being heard on Monday, senior advocate Arvind Datar for the NBA informed the court that he would need another four weeks to release the revised rules because discussions with the chairperson of the NBSA, justice (retd) AK Sikri, and the previous head of the organisation, justice (retd) RV Raveendran, are still ongoing.

No legal standing

Rival NBF informed the court that NBA had no legal standing in the legal action because they were not registered with the government even if the court was willing to allow time. Mahesh Jethmalani, a senior advocate who represented NBF, claimed, “We can’t be bound by any guidelines brought by them. Half the news broadcasters are with us. How can they seek to regulate when they are not registered?”

In its answer to the petition, the Centre, which was represented by solicitor general Tushar Mehta, stated last week that all self-regulatory bodies of broadcasters must be registered with the government in accordance with the Cable Television Networks (CTN) Amendment Rules, which would be implemented in 2021.

Mehta claimed that the only statutorily recognised self-regulatory agency for news channels is the Professional News Broadcasters Standards Authority (PNBSA), which is the self-regulatory body of NBF and has registered.

Self-regulatory guidelines must be tightened

The bench declined to weigh in on the argument over who should be recognised by the two competing news channel organisations and stated, “We want that the self-regulatory guidelines must be tightened. We don’t want this issue to be lost in the cacophony of rival ideologies.” The court also allowed NBF to submit its guidelines in four weeks and said, “Former judges of this court are looking into this issue. They will do well. We will permit the rival organisations to place their mechanism before us.”

Jethmalani informed the court that the NBF is setting up regulations and is in discussions about it with former Supreme Court Justice AM Khanwilkar.

Also Read: ABC sends Chandrababu Naidu to 14-day judicial remand in corruption case

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