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Rules for cable TV networks now akin to IT Rules 2021, amended to bring in grievance redressal mechanism

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Thursday amended the Cable Television Network (CTN) Rules, 1994, setting up a new grievance redressal mechanism, a press release stated. The new mechanism brings Cable TV in line with what news media and over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms are required to conform to as per Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021, issued in February.

The amendment, which applies to over 900 TV channels, “paves the way for a strong institutional system for redressing grievances while placing accountability and responsibility on the broadcasters and their self-regulating bodies,” the release stated.

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What does the new grievance redressal mechanism look like?

The amended rules called the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021, institute a three-level grievance redressal mechanism:

1. Self-regulation by broadcasters: The broadcaster must appoint a Grievance Officer and furnish his/her contact details publicly. Complaints can directly be filed by viewers with the officer if the complainant believes that the broadcaster is not conforming to the Programme Code or Advertising Code of the rules. The broadcaster should acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and respond to it within 15 days.

2. Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the broadcasters: If the complainant is not satisfied with the response from the broadcaster, the complaint can escalate the issue to the self-regulating body of which the broadcaster is a member. This body should provide a response to the complainant within 15 days and issue an advisory or guidance to the broadcaster within 60 days.

The self-regulating bodies must consist of at least 40 broadcasters and must be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court or an eminent person from the field of media or related field. These self-regulating bodies have thirty days from the date of notification of the rules to register themselves with the government.

3. Oversight by the Central Government through an Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC): If the complainant is not satisfied with the response from the self-regulating body, within 15 days, the complainant can approach the Inter-Departmental Committee. This committee can take up complaints that are filed directly with the government as well.

The IDC can recommend the government to advise, warn, censure, admonish or reprimand a broadcaster, or seek an apology. It can also ask the broadcaster to include a warning card, disclaimer, or to delete or modify content, or take the channel or a programme off-air for a specified time period, where it is satisfied that such action is warranted.

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The IDC will be chaired by the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and have members from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, representatives of other Ministries and organisations, and other experts.

The broadcasters are also expected to publically disclose all the complaints it has received, the responses it has provided, the actions it has taken, and the directions it has received from the self-regulating body or the government with regards to any complaint.

In line with IT Rules 2021

The grievance redressal mechanism for Cable TV now mirrors that which is laid out by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for news media and OTT streaming platforms in the IT Rules 2021.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on May 26 instructed digital-only media entities, over-the-top streaming platforms and traditional media companies to send information about their operations to the ministry within 15 days. The information sought after include the publisher/platform’s website URL, mobile apps, company information, contact information, particulars of the news editors, and details about their grievance redressal mechanism such as the name of grievance officer and self-regulatory body of which intermediary is a member.

However, the ministry, yesterday, in response to an RTI Application to MediaNama said that the registration of self-regulatory bodies for news organisations and streaming services is still under process. The IT Rules were notified on February 25, meaning it has been more than three months, far exceeding the timeline set out originally for the registration of news and streaming self-regulation bodies. The longer duration being taken to process the registration reflects the complications of setting up these organisations and the concerns that the industry has voiced in the burdens that come with complying with the Rules’ requirements.

Why was this amendment made?

As per the press release, the government made this amendment for the following reasons:

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  1. Need for a statutory mechanism: Although there currently, exists a mechanism that allows an Inter-Ministerial Committee to address grievances of citizens relating to violation of the Programme and Advertising Code under the Rules, the government felt that there was a need to formalise a statutory mechanism for “strengthening the grievance redressal structure.”
  2. Legal recognition to associations/bodies: In addition to developing their own grievance mechanisms, many broadcasters are part of self-regulatory associations/bodies. The amendment allows these self-regulatory bodies to legally register themselves with the government.

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