The Union Government through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting assured the Bombay High Court (HC) that there was a mechanism in the form of the Broadcasting News Association (NBA) that regulates electronic media. The statement was made in response to issues raised in various public interest cases (PIL) raised against the media trial in the death case of Sushant Singh Rajput. The ministry also stated that it was in the process of formulating a better mechanism to address complaints.
The NBA, for its part, informed the court that it had taken action against many channels and had also banned the channels for violating the program code. However, when asked if any action had been taken against the channels for conducting media trials, the NBA responded in the negative. The court posted further hearing Monday.
A bench sharing Justice Chief Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, while listening to a bunch of PILs presented by various individuals and NGOs, including former senior police officials, was briefed by the Additional Attorney General Anil Singh that various Supreme Court and HC trials have highlighted the need for self-regulation by the media. Referring to a Kerala HC trial, Singh said the courts have time and again refrained from drafting guidelines for restricting the media on the grounds that it was in the domain of parliament and the state legislature. Singh also referred to other trials where courts have refused to draft guidelines and said the media should act responsibly.
Singh further asserted that the NBA was established to act as a self-regulatory authority for electronic media as well as to serve as a grievance redressal mechanism. Singh added that the NBA exercised control over the members and if the channels did not listen, the complaint was forwarded to the ministry. In such cases, he said, an inter-ministerial committee took action against channels, including those that are not members of the NBA.
In light of these complaints, Singh said there was no need for additional mechanism and added that in light of the complaints raised in the PIL, it was considering ways to regulate non-members and bring about effective mechanisms against them.
When the court asked if the ministry or the NBA had dealt with complaints related to media trials, Singh responded negatively and said action had been initiated against erroneous channels related to ads or obscene content.
The court then noted that in the current scenario the electronic media, while exercising its right to freedom of speech, was violating the rights of others by tarnishing the image of the subjects. “Legal restraint is necessary, otherwise there will be absolute mutilation,” the bench noted.
The court reiterated that it only wanted to emphasize the fact that there was no mechanism to control the electronic media as it had for the print media. Singh responded, “We expected the media to show content, but they did not; “So we are taking steps to come up with a mechanism.”
While making submissions on behalf of the NBA, senior adviser Arvind Datar informed the court that the self-regulatory body was gaining knowledge of the grievances as well as launching suo motu actions against the wrong members. He also presented data showing that the NBA was taking action on 30 cases of member channels violating the program code each year.
After hearing the submissions, the court said it would hear the channels on Monday and instructed them not to repeat the arguments and hearing posted for Monday.
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