REPORT ON MEETING WITH I AND B MINISTRY ON MEDIA REGULATION CODE
Various interventions and complaints from media experts, women’s organizations such as AIDWA and viewers at large on the content of films, TV and radio programs have prompted the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to initiate a series of consultations for drafting a code of conduct for the media. These consultations covered some of the most significant areas such as:
- Depiction of women, underprivileged sections, physically challenged individuals, children etc in cinema, TV programmes, radio and advertisements
- Depiction of violence and horror
- Portrayal of social evils, programmes encouraging superstition and blind beliefs
- Coverage of natural calamities, disasters and accidents
- Mandatory certification of music videos
- Time slotting for adult films and TV programs
- Social responsibility of both private and public media
- Adequacy of existing laws and regulations and strengthening of enforcement mechanism
- Self-regulation by industry
What came out clearly in the discussions was that the guidelines for Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), programmes and advertisement codes prescribed under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 do not cover in detail, all aspects of content of films, TV and radio programmes. Therefore, a need was felt to elaborate and update these codes and guidelines in accordance with prevailing standards of public sensibility with a view to minimize the scope for subjective discretion, and also facilitate self-regulation.
In pursuance of the above task, the UPA Government constituted a Committee to review and update the existing codes, leading to the drafting of a new Broadcasting Code and Guidelines that would uniformly apply to all domestic electronic media. The members of the Committee include Secretaries of various Ministries, members of the NCW and National Commission for Minorities, representatives of various TV Channels, the music and film industry, advertising bodies, consumer protection groups and few media experts. Significantly, AIDWA is the only women’s organization represented in the Committee.
The Committee has held 3 meetings since its inception in November 2005. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) was given the initial responsibility to prepare the preliminary draft Code on the pattern of OFCOM (UK), which is the regulatory code for that country. The Committee has been holding discussions on this draft.
ROLE OF AIDWA:
Subhashini Ali, U. Vasuki, Ranjana Nirula and Manjeet Rathi have attended these meetings from time to time, and made important interventions, particularly with regard to reformulating the gender content of the draft Code. We have also submitted our written comments giving concrete suggestions in each of these meetings. The initial OFCOM draft and the existing programme and advertising codes and CBFC guidelines were sent to media monitoring groups of various states and selected individual experts in these areas. The suggestions that were received from these groups and individuals were very useful. We were able to get written comments from Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka, there were also discussions with Tamil Nadu and contributions from Haryana.
Our areas of intervention that have received favorable consideration include:
- At present, publicity material related to films, including posters, promos, music cassettes and CDs and other audio-visual materials is released before CBFC certification. All this material should either be considered as publicity material or screened prior to release on the market, or should be considered as part of the film and be released only after the film has been censored.
- Stereotyped images of women, the commodification of women and glorification of gender subordination that contradict the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution of India to be eschewed
- Situations of violence must not only refer to law and order situations and anti-social activities, but also include domestic violence, sexual harassment, etc.
- The code defined violence only as physical abuse, whereas it needed to include the psychological aspect of violence. (This point was also endorsed by the representative of NIMHANS)
- Irrelevant associations of women’s bodies in advertising (for example while selling products used by men), emphasis on certain parts of women’s bodies in order to sell a particular product and comparison of women to objects like cars etc. should be avoided.
- The terms ‘moral’ and ‘morality’ should be replaced with ‘dignity’ and ‘sensibility’
- Glorification of social evils such as dowry, son preference and bigamy should not be permitted
- Dangerous, retrogressive and gender discriminatory practices should not be promoted in the name of religion
- The principle of scientific temper enshrined in the Constitution should be respected
- The draft code had a clause that disallows criticism of “friendly countries” and any criticism that would amount to contempt of court. We objected to these formulations, saying that the definition of a ‘friendly country’ would vary over time, and that there should be scope to criticize court verdicts if they undermined democratic values. The Secretary stated that he accepted AIDWA’s suggestion in principle, and he would ensure a balanced formulation in the code.
- Use of minors in remixes, music videos, advertisements with sexual connotations should not be allowed
- In the news section, coverage of scenes of crime, violence, and supernatural practices should be dealt with utmost objectivity and sensitivity and not with a view to sensationalize or glorify them
- The category of ‘unacceptable categories’ of products and services for which advertisements are not allowed should include hazardous contraceptives
- On one point however, there was a major difference of opinion with us. While there was agreement that the ridicule of physically challenged persons is to be avoided, they were not convinced about avoiding the ridicule of poor, illiterate and rural people. This indicates the class bias in the Committee members.
As per draft code, there is a provision for a Regulatory Mechanism would include three aspects:
- Complaint Mechanism
- Appellate Authority (Content Regulatory Committee)
At present, the onus of proof of violation of the Code rests with the complainant. One of the most significant interventions we could make was to shift the onus of proving non-violation from the complainant (who may not be familiar with the code) to the Licensee.
According to the draft Code, non-compliance by the Licensee should invite penalties (Rs 5000 in case of the first violation and Rs 10000 for subsequent violations). We suggested that this penalty is extremely low and should be enhanced. For certain violations, the Licensee should be blacklisted.
We suggested that there should be a Grievance and Redressal Mechanism at the regional and state levels.
We have suggested that the Complaint Mechanism must have powers to pass interim orders till the fate of the complaint is decided.
The Complaint Mechanism and Appellate Authority must have representatives from various sections of society, especially women’s organizations. This was agreed to by the Committee.
On the issue of social responsibility, many industry representatives argue that only public broadcasting channels should be vested with this responsibility since private channels have their own objectives and limitations. In principle, the Committee agreed with this suggestion,
In view of the above developments it is extremely important for AIDWA to form and strengthen media watch groups at the state level. Analysis of gender portrayal in advertisements and films could be one concrete area to be taken up in each state.
We must organize wide consultations on the Code when it is finalized.
18 July 2006