Stating that it will not regulate media content, the Supreme Court Thursday said that the role of a court or a statutory authority will come in only after a complaint is levelled against a telecast or publication. A bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar made it clear that pre-broadcast or pre-publication censorship is not the business of the court and that all grievances against objectionable content will be dealt with in accordance with the law of the land after its publication.
The bench, also comprising Justice D Y Chandrachud, underscored the right of the media as enshrined under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression. The court was hearing a clutch of PILs led by NGO Common Cause which demanded a regulatory body for the media on the ground that the Centre had failed to regulate content of the broadcast media.
Representing the NGO, advocate Prashant Bhushan said: “This business of self-regulation has not worked for media… the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, as content regulator, has failed completely in protecting the interests and basic rights of the audience.”
But the bench said that neither could a court nor a department in the government should be asked to start regulating content of the media. “We cannot ask them (Centre) to monitor the content of channels. How can we do that? You can approach us or the authority concerned after telecast or airing of objectionable contents only,” the bench told the counsel.
Citing a Constitution Bench ruling in 2012, the court said: “If something happens and you find them obnoxious, then we will certainly deal with them. Generally speaking, we cannot interfere with it and do content regulation.” The bench’s view was supported by the Centre as well as the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) which maintained that the self-regulatory mechanism has been working well for news channels.
The Centre, on its part, informed the court that until 2011, it had the capacity to monitor 150 TV channels 24×7 which could be raised to 1,500 channels by the end of this year and hence, it had appropriate mechanism to deal with the subject matter.
The bench, however, noted that the government required to formalise the statutory mechanism for redressal of complaints against contents of private TV channels and radio stations and accord due publicity to the measures to enable citizens approach it if they have certain grievances.
It said that rules under Section 22 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act should be be framed so that a definite regime is in place with regard to the time limit for filing and deciding complaints and filing of appeals by the aggrieved parties, among other things. With these recommendations, the Supreme Court wrapped up the petitions pending since 2013.