A voluntary resolve is more effective than any impositions: Uday Shankar, President, IBF
After months of deliberation, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has finally announced the broadcast industry’s decision to adopt ‘Self Regulatory Guidelines and Complaints Redressal Mechanism’ to regulate content for all non-news content. The move is seen not only as a key step towards “responsible broadcasting” but also a potential resolve to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Broadcasters on and off conversations on content code. To show the solidarity behind this resolution, the announcement was made by IBF’s President Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India; Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited’s Managing Director Punit Goenka; Viacom18 CEO Haresh Chawla and Markand Adhikari, Vice-Chairman & Managing Director, Sri Adhikari Brothers.
At the core of these guidelines is the creation of Broadcaster Content Complaints Council (BCCC), a leaf from Advertising Standards Council of India’s (ASCI) book of approaching advertising complaints through Customer Complaints Council (CCC). The mechanism has worked well for the ASCI and the single reason for that is the strength of the CCC. IBF understands the critical responsibility on the BCCC and has invested significant time in formulating guidelines to govern the BCCC. BCCC is designed as a 13-member committee including the Chairperson. The Chairperson would be retired Judge of the Supreme Court or High Court and 12 other members include four non-broadcaster members, four members from any national level Statutory Commissions and four broadcaster members. Former Delhi High Court Justice A P Shah would Chair the first BCCC, which is scheduled to meet in the second week of May and would be functional from June 2011.
The IBF has put together a two-tier process that would include complaining to the erring channel in the first tier, and then complaining to BCCC in the second tier. The BCCC, for valid complaints, can advise action against the channel, which if not adhered to, can be taken to the MIB. BCCC can even recommend revoking the faulting channel’s license to the MIB.
The BCCC would be maintained by the IBF; the Chairperson of the BCCC would be appointed by IBF board, following a majority decision and there would be four IBF members, though unlike other BCCC members, IBF members would hold only a one-year office at BCCC. All other BCCC members, including Chairperson, would hold a three-year office. Despite its deep involvement, the IBF is clear about the role it is playing. This is a movement that the IBF has begun but in the longer run the IBF sees BCCC becoming an entity of its own.
The Thought behind the Process
There were many reasons in the past that have led to IBF taking this step. This includes the constant complaints against various channels, including leading Hindi general entertainment channels, and the battle moving between MIB and various courts to the channels and industry bodies. The most recent example was when MIB directed Colors to move ‘Bigg Boss’ at 11 pm, given the “adult” nature of the content, and the channel took the matter to the court. The MIB order was finally never executed. According to IBF, the absence of a set mechanism has led to confusion and hence different kinds of judgments coming on content issues. This step of self-regulation from the IBF is expected to resolve this situation.
For the self-regulation route, the IBF has adopted the Ministry of Information Broadcasting Self Regulation Guidelines for Broadcasting Sector draft version of 2008, which was “formulated after a consultative process by over 40 stakeholders from the across the Government, civil society, NGO’s and industry”. The draft has been modified to suit the requisites of current times.
The IBF has advised all channels to appoint internal content/audit heads, who would be aware of these guidelines, who would connect with BCCC in case of complaints and feedback and so on. The channels will also clearly classify their content in R-Rated (adult) and G-Rated (general), to be aired depending on the allotted slots. At present, the R-Rated slot is 11 pm to 5 am.
All complaints received would be put up for orders of chairperson by BCCC Secretariat within three working days from the receipt of the complaints. If the complaint appears prima facie vexatious, frivolous or motivated or appears baseless, the Chairperson shall initiate no action but will direct BCCC Secretariat to put up the same at the next meeting of BCCC to decide whether the complaint should be processed or not. The BCCC shall direct further action to be taken.
The two-tier mechanism has learnt from various present industry practices including the industry-created News Broadcasters Association, that attempts to self—regulate the news broadcasting industry in India. As the NBA grew, many problems and ways of working were ironed out but it was the subsequent formation of the Broadcast Editors Associations (BEA) that finally brought the content of news channels to a place, where self-regulation truly manifested itself.
At present, the IBF is also working on creating viewer awareness around this initiative. It has informed that the publicity of this option to complaint about content would be to viewers through IBF channels. The ads would be created by the IBF and all IBF channels would air the message.
As the IBF puts it, there are very few examples, globally, of self-regulation of this kind in broadcasting. And this is only the beginning of self-regulation for all non-news channels. The guidelines will evolve with experience and suggestions of the BCCC.
IMPACT spoke to Uday Shankar to gather his perspective on the recommendations and the way ahead for the industry:
Q] You have been planning this for some time now. What were some of the setbacks that you had experienced before you could make this announcement?
You have to understand that this was the first time that the broadcast industry was working on something like this for all non-news channels. We have the NBA in place for news channels but a large set of broadcasters had to agree to the various contours of how this would shape up and that would take its time. The setbacks, as you say it, are not important at this point. This is a very progressive step from the industry. We will start soon with the BCCCC and what is adequate will evolve over a period of time. But before anything, you have to understand that this is the beginning and the not the end and as we go along, we will learn from experience and the Committee also will give us guidelines. The idea right now was to begin something like this. And we are happy we have been able to begin, as there are not many examples in the world where broadcasting member driven mechanism for content-regulation exists.
Q] And the Ministry would agree with this step?
The Ministry, in particular Minister Ambika Soni, has mentioned time and again that the Ministry is not really interested in regulating content. The Indian broadcasting industry however cannot operate without any guidelines at all. The industry is growing at a fast pace, and everyone realises that it has a role to play in society and shaping opinions. India is still a single TV household and we are still talking of very large numbers of family viewership. So there has to be something that guides the industry. This is an attempt in that direction.
Q] We have seen very large broadcasters agreeing to this. But what if someone does not follow the guidelines?
This is a question in every one’s minds, and we have been asked this question every time an attempt to discuss this subject comes up. First of all, I am very confident that we will not face this situation from IBF members. Our experience with NBA has been exactly that. So far, there is a 100 per cent record that directives that the IBF has taken to govern itself have always been followed. People put their point of view but finally everyone respects the body that they have themselves created. A voluntary resolve is more effective than any impositions. But in the very unlikely, hypothetical situation of a member going rogue, we have retained the option, where we suggest to the Justice Shah Committee that they can recommend to the Ministry that action, as strict as revoking the channel’s license, be taken.
Q] But we have seen in the past that it is not necessary that MIB has been followed?
It is not, but there is a very different case here. There was no mechanism of this kind so the broadcasters had no choice but to go to judicial redress. If you see now, there is a body, a self-created body of broadcasters in fact, that has the right method and the right process and when following all this, an order has been issued, then even a court would be hesitant to not encourage an industry body such as the BCCC.
Q] What about shows that probably have one-off cases of R-Rated content?
Well, there should not be cases of one-off, when it is not an R-Rated show. When the industry and the authorities have created watershed hours, then creative people should know and follow it -- one off or not. You cannot put restricted content in general viewing hours, and there cannot be exception to that – the channels would have to edit the content. There would be responsibility on content creators and channel auditors.
Q] The entire committee has a three-year term – why one-year for IBF members?
So that there is adequate representation. There is a lot of responsibility on this Committee in order for this step to work in favour of the industry and its stakeholders, including viewers. The IBF members would nominate the IBF AGM to ensure fair representation.