Last week, the Supreme Court came down heavily on a TV channel that was intent on broadcasting hate-filled programmes. The Court underlined the need for laying down clear guidelines, and their effective implementation, for the media against hate speech.
This has brought to the centre-stage, once again, the debate about the need, scope and extent of media regulation.
TV channels have the power to set the country afire with their hateful discourse, for which some of them have become notorious.
In his opinion piece, S Y Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India and a former member of National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), explains the possible forms of such regulation. They are government regulation, self-regulation and independent regulation.
The government has made several attempts in the past to regulate the media but all such attempts came crashing down in the wake of public outcry. Government regulations are not desirable as these could interfere with the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution (Article 19).
“The second alternative — self-regulation — though ideal, is easier said than done and continues to be a pipedream, at least in India,” he writes.
The third and most desirable option is independent regulation.
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Who will set it up? If the government does it, the whole world is ready to pounce on it. A great responsibility has fallen on the Supreme Court, an opportunity that it must not miss. Incidentally, a fourth model has accidentally evolved — self-cum-independent regulation.
The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which was set up in 2008, in turn, set up the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), with the legendary former Chief Justice of India, Justice J S Verma, as its chairman. He agreed to chair this body on the express condition that this will be an independent body and that he would brook no interference from the parent body — the NBA — a condition which the Association has always honoured.
The NBSA consists of four representatives from among media editors and an equal number of independent members of eminence, besides the chairman.
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The NBSA did suffer from some serious shortcomings. First, its writ extended only to its members, which was limited due to its voluntary membership. Those who were unhappy with a verdict found it easy to walk out.
“I always thought that the government should step in to provide this unique model with statutory backing, extending its jurisdiction to non- members as well, besides empowering it to take punitive action like suspending and cancelling licences,” he states.
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