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Demystifying the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021

On June 17, 2021, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting notified the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021.

What are these Rules? How are they similar/ dissimilar from the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 which came into effect on July 20, 2020? Advocate Aazmeen Kasad demystifies and provides an in-depth understanding of what these Rules are and what are the different structures proposed by the Government towards regulating content on the television media.

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In continuation with its reforms, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting notified the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021 on June 17, 2021, adding new provisions to the existing Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

Principally, the amendment serves to create a 3-tiered structure for ensuring observance and adherence to the Programme Code and the Advertising Code by the broadcaster and to address the grievance or handling any form of complaints received on the content of any programme or advertisement of any channel.

As the words used in the Rules specify ‘Advertisement of any channel’ and not ‘Advertisement on any channel’, should the same be interpreted to mean that these Rules relate only to advertisements by channels which pertain to their channel and/or programme content? Or should the interpretation be a broader one to include advertisements by all advertisers? A clarification in this behalf would be advisable by the Hon’ble Ministry to avoid any anomaly from arising.

Vide the newly inserted Rule 16, any person aggrieved by the content of aprogramme of a channel by virtue of the fact that it is not in conformity with the Programme Code or the Advertising Code is provided a window to file a complaint in writing with the Broadcaster, who is mandated to generate and issue anacknowledgement to the complainant for his information and record, within twenty-four hours of the complaint being filed.

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The complaint is required to be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Rule, i.e.

  • the broadcaster shall dispose of the complaint and inform the complainant of its decision within fifteen days of receipt of such complaint;
  • if the decision of the broadcaster is not communicated to the complainant within the stipulated period of fifteen days, or if the complainant is not satisfied with the decision of the broadcaster, he may prefer an appeal to the self-regulating body of which such broadcaster is a member, within fifteen days therefrom;
  • the self-regulating body shall dispose of the appeal within sixty days of receipt of appeal and convey its decision in the form of a guidance or advisory to the broadcaster, and inform the complainant of such decision within a period of fifteen days;
  • where the complainant is not satisfied with the decision of the self-regulating body, he may,within fifteen days of such decision, prefer an appeal to the Central Government for itsconsideration under the Oversight Mechanism.

The proviso to the Rule states that where such complaint relates to Advertising Code laid down by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), such complaint may be addressed to the said Council and that Council shall deal with such complaint in accordance with the procedure laid down by it, but in any case the Advertising Standards Council of India shall take a decision on the complaint within sixty days of its receipt, and communicate the same to the broadcaster and the complainant. 

This proviso, while continuing to give legitimacy to the self-regulatory governance practiced by the Advertising Standards Council of India since over 35 years, then raises a question on the role to be played by the Consumer Complaints Protection Authority (CCPA) set up under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 for adjudicating complaints on advertisements, in the event the scope of the Rules also covers advertisements by the larger body of advertisers, and not just by broadcasters. 

While the provisions of different laws now appear to provide a raft of increasing avenues to individuals to file complaints on the content of advertisements: (i) with broadcasters; (ii) with the Advertising Standards Council of India; (iii) with the CCPA; the consequence of the same certainly poses the risk of: (i) creating confusion in the minds of the complainant on where he/she should file a complaint in respect of different advertisements; and (ii) the advertisers being required torespond to complaints filed across different forums permitted under the various lawsin respect of their advertisement(s). A clarification from the Ministry would be helpful to demystify the same. 

Self-Regulation by the Broadcaster

At the first instance, a Broadcaster is required to establish a grievance or complaint redressal mechanism and appoint an officer to deal with thecomplaints received by it. The officer shall be the contact point for receiving any grievance or complaint relating to Programme Code andAdvertising Code; and act as the nodal point for interaction with the complainant, the self-regulating body and the Central Government. 

The broadcaster is additionally required to: (i) display the contact details related to its grievance redressal mechanism, the name and contact detailsof its grievance officer at an appropriate place on its website or interface (as the case may be), (ii) ensure that itsgrievance officer takes a decision on every grievance or complaint received by it within fifteen days and communicates the same to the complainant within the stipulated time; (iii) be a member of a self-regulating body and abide by its terms and conditions, and (iv) comply with every advisory, guidance, order or direction issued under thisrule by the self-regulating body or by the Central Government. 

The broadcaster is also required to preserve a record of the content telecastby it for a minimum period of ninety days and make it available to the self-regulating body or the Central Government, or any other Central Government agency as may be requisitioned by it. 

Self-regulating body of broadcasters to self-regulate and be appellate authority 

The Rules permit the setting up of one or more self-regulatory body of broadcasters, which shall be an independent body constituted by a minimum of forty (40) broadcasters or its association. Every such self-regulating body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court or an independent eminent person from the field of media, broadcasting, entertainment, child rights, human rights or such other relevant fields, and shall have other members, preferably not exceeding six, being independent experts in the field of media, broadcasting, entertainment, child rights, human rights and such other relevant fields. The self-regulating body shall, after its constitution, register itself with the Central Government within a period of thirty days from the date of publication of the Rules, or within thirty days from the date of its constitution, whichever is earlier. Provided that before granting registration to the self-regulating body, the Central Government shall satisfy itself that the self-regulating body has been constituted in accordance with the prescribed Rules and has agreed to perform the following functions. 

(i) oversee and ensure the alignment and adherence by the broadcaster to the Programme Code and the Advertising Code;

(ii) provide guidance to the broadcaster on various aspects of the Programme Code and the Advertising Code;

(iii) dispose of grievances which have not been disposed of by the broadcaster within the specified period of fifteen days;

(iv) hear appeals filed by the complainant against the decision of the broadcaster;

(v) issue such guidance or advisories to a broadcaster, for ensuring compliance to the Programme Code and the Advertising Code.

A self-regulating body while disposing complaint or an appeal may issue the following guidance or advisories to the broadcaster, namely: -

(i) advisory, warning, censure, admonish or reprimand; or

(ii) an apology to be telecast by the broadcaster; or

(iii) include a warning card or a disclaimer; or

(iv) in case of any content where it is satisfied that there is a need for taking action to delete or modify content, refer it to the Central Government for the consideration of the oversight mechanism referred for appropriate action.

If the self-regulating body is of the opinion that there is no violation of the Programme Code or the Advertising Code, it shall convey such decision to the complainant and the broadcaster. In the event, the broadcaster fails to comply with the guidance or advisory of the self-regulating body within the time specified in such guidance or advisory, the self-regulating body shall refer the matter to the Oversight Mechanism of the Central Government, within fifteen days of expiry of the stipulated period. 

The self-regulating body and a broadcaster shall make true and fulldisclosure of all grievances or complaints received by it, the manner in which the complaints are disposed of, the action taken on such complaints, the reply sent to the complainant, the orders or directions received by itand action taken on such orders or directions. The information is required to be placed in the public domain, and updated quarterly. 

Oversight Mechanism 

With an intent to coordinate and facilitate the adherence to the Programme Code and the Advertising Code by the broadcaster, the Central Government will develop an Oversight Mechanism, and perform the following functions: 

(i) publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices for such bodies;

(ii) establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances or complaints;

(iii) refer to the Inter-Departmental Committee grievances or complaints arising out of the decision of theself-regulating body, or if no decision has been taken by the self-regulating body within the stipulated time, or on receipt of such other complaints or references relating to violation of Programme Code or Advertising Code as it may consider necessary;

(iv) issue appropriate guidance and advisories to broadcasters;

(v) issue appropriate orders and directions to broadcasters for maintenance and adherence to the Programme

Code and the Advertising Code;

(vi) take action for non-compliance of its orders or directions and that of the self-regulating body.

Interdisciplinary Committee

An Inter-DepartmentalCommittee, chaired by the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and representatives of such other Ministries and Organisations, including experts, as the Central Government may decide, shall be constituted by the Central Government. 

The Inter-Departmental Committee shall devise its own procedure for hearing grievances or complaints. 

The Committee shall meet periodically and hear complaints regarding violation or contravention of theProgramme Code and the Advertising Code that may: (i) arise out of appeal against the decisions taken at the Level I or Level II, as the case may be, or where no such decision is taken within the specified time; or (ii) be referred to it by the Central Government. 

The Inter-Departmental Committee shall examine complaints or grievances received by it and make anyof the following recommendations to the Central Government, namely: 

(i) advising, warning, censuring, admonishing or reprimanding such broadcaster; or

(ii) requiring an apology of such broadcaster; or

(iii) requiring such broadcaster to include a warning card or a disclaimer; or

(iv) requiring such broadcaster to delete or modify content or take the channel or a programme off-air for a specified time period where it is satisfied that such action is warranted, for reasons to berecorded in writing.

The Central Government may, after taking into consideration the recommendations of the Committee, issue appropriate orders and directions for compliance by the broadcaster.

If the Central Government is satisfied that the programme of any channel is not in conformity with the Programme Code or that the advertisement of any channel is not in conformity with the Advertising Code, it may, after giving an opportunity of hearing to the cable operator, and by an order in writing, prohibit the transmission or re-transmission of any such channel or programme inaccordance with the provisions of section 20 of the Act.

Advocate Aazmeen Kasad is a practicing corporate advocate with over 20 years of experience, with a focus on the Media, Technology and Telecom industries. She is also a professor of law since 14 years. She is a member of the Consumer Complaints Council of the Advertising Standards Council of India. She is a speaker at several forums.

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