When there are existing guidelines for the electronic media to follow then why can't the Union government make these norms laid down by private bodies such as the National Broadcasters Standard Authority (NBSA) mandatory for the TV channels to abide, questioned the Bombay High Court on Monday.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni also ordered the Union ministry of information and broadcasting, to spell out if it has ever banned a news channels for violating the standard code.
The bench is seized with a clutch of petitions highlighting media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case and the insensitive coverage by electronic media. The petitions led by the one filed by nine retired IPS officers have urged the bench to lay down guidelines to regulate the content of the TV news channels.
On Monday when the matter came up for hearing, senior counsel Arvind Datar, appearing for the NBSA argued that these private bodies have been dealing with complaints filed against the content of news channels. He also told the bench that the authority has also fined several news channels up to Rs one lakh.
"Most news channels have abided by our orders and have also tendered unconditional apologies. They have also pulled down their content," Datar pointed out, adding, "But there have been instances when some news channels haven't abided by our orders. One such instance is of Republic TV, which did not obey orders and have walked out (of NBSA) to form their own news broadcasters Federation (NBF)."
The senior counsel, however, stressed on the need to exercise self-regulation and argued against a statutory body to oversee TV news content, as suggested by the bench.
"Self-regulation is the norm," Datar emphasised.
At this, CJ Datta sought to know from the senior counsel as to what is the situation once self-regulation mechanism fails.
Citing the mechanism in the medical profession, CJ Datta pointed out, "When a doctor gets admitted to PG course at concessional rates, s/he are asked mandatorily to serve for a limited period in rural areas. If one refuses to serve, the authorities have the power to either withhold his or her certificate or impose a hefty penalty."
"Then why can't u have such guidelines for electronic media? I believe this should be the teeth to your (NBSA) guidelines," CJ Datta remarked.
To this, Datar replied once a channel refuses to abide by NBSA orders, then the ministry has to step in. Even the judiciary has a wide scope to step in at this juncture, the senior counsel argued.
Further, Datar said the NBSA itself believes that its guidelines must be made mandatory for all news channels. "If any channel breaches our orders that would be the ground for an injunction against them," the advocate submitted.
During the course of his submissions, Datar pointed out the Sudarshan TV case, wherein Delhi HC initially did not pass any injunction orders, and only after four episodes of its series on a "news" the Supreme Court stayed the broadcast of its programme.
Meanwhile, the judges sought to know from additional solicitor general Anil Singh if the ministry has taken any action against any news channels for not abiding by the NBSA orders. "Let us also know if you have banned any news channel for this conduct," the chief justice said while posting the matter for further hearing on Wednesday.