The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Association (NBDSA), is an association of private television and digital news broadcasters. As a part of the attempt by broadcasters to self regulate, it has framed the 'News Broadcasting Standards Regulations', which provides for the 'News Broadcasting & Digital Standards Authority of the News Broadcasters & Digital Association' (Authority) which is to consist of a Chairperson being an eminent jurist and eight other Members nominated by the Board of NBDA by a majority decision. The Authority is empowered to consider complaints against broadcasters relating to the content of any broadcast.
Presently, Justice A.K. Sikri, retired Judge of the Supreme Court is the Chairperson of the Authority.
By two separate orders passed by the Authority on the 19th, it has held that television news channels Times Now and Zee News have violated the 'Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards' prescribed by the NBDSA.
In the order against Zee News, the Authority expresses its disapproval to the broadcaster and states that the NBDSA will prescribe guidelines relating to broadcasting Taglines, Hashtags and the use of images. In its order against Times Now, the Authority states that NBDSA will issue guidelines relating to Anchors conducting debates.
In addition, in both orders, the Authority has ordered for the removal of the impugned content from all platforms and to report compliance within 7 days.
Case Against Times Now
A complaint was filed against the Editor-In-Chief Rahul Shivshankar and Anchor Padma Joshi by Advocate Utkarsh Mishra. It was alleged that the news channel did not cover the Delhi riots investigation in a fact-based manner.
The complainant further alleged that Shivshankar who hosted the show 'India Upfront,' on September 14 called "Shocking Secret admission out in Umar's arrest, Does left lobby know the truth Delhi riots key witness intimidated threat linked to kingpin? spoke about a "secret meeting of the Leftists" while the actual meeting took place via Zoom webinar which was also uploaded a Facebook video.
Mishra, in his complaint, mentioned that the broadcaster had expressly attempted to mislead the audience and to develop hostility between communities, concerning the nature and object of the discussion that took place.
Against Joshi, it was alleged that she had violated several guidelines of the Code of Ethics, Specific guidelines for reporting Court proceedings, and Guidelines to prevent communal color in reporting crimes, riots, rumours during a Newshour episode - "Delhi Riots: Plot To Kill Cops & Kaafirs Exposed; Peaceful Protest A Facade?"
The NBDSA held that the anchors of the impugned programs did not conduct the debates in an impartial and objective manner and further violated the Fundamental Principles enshrined in the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and several other regulations issued by the authority.
Case Against Zee News
The NBDSA found that the TV new channel Zee News violated the Code of Ethics while covering farmers' protests on 26th January 2021 by linking it to Khalistanis.
The Complainant Indrajeet Ghorpade alleged that two programs of the news channel, namely, Taal Thok Ke: Khalistan Se Kab Saavdhan Hoga Kisaan?" and "Taal Thok Ke: Nahi Maane Kisaan Toh Kya Republic Day Par Hoga 'Gruha Yudh'?" which was broadcasted on 19th and 20th January 2021 violated the Code of Ethics.
It was alleged that the two programs were designed to create undue fear and distress amongst the audience and disrupt public confidence in the capacity of national institutions which are meant to protect the people.
The authority held that the Headlines and Taglines which were used were not in compliance with the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and Specific Guideline Covering Reportage, Fundamental Standards and Guidelines 1 and 2.
Can The Authority Order Removal Of Impugned Content?
As per Regulation 7 of the News Broadcasting Standards Regulations, the Authority has the following powers–
i) Authority can warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval against, and/or impose a fine upon the broadcaster and/or recommend to the concerned authority for suspension/revocation of the license of such broadcaster.
ii) The fine imposed by the Authority shall not exceed Rs.1, 00,000/- (Rupees One Lac only) and such fine shall be recovered from the concerned Broadcaster.
iii) Authority can direct any broadcaster to publish information relating to any inquiry conducted against the broadcaster, including the warning, admonition, censure, disapproval issued or fine imposed and any other particulars relating to the proceedings as the Authority thinks fit.
Going by Regulation 7, the authority does not possess the power to order for deletion/removal of impugned content.
Till 2021, the NBDSA and the Authority had no legal sanctity. They were merely self-regulatory mechanisms developed by private broadcasters to avoid government regulations. The orders of the Authority were not enforceable if a broadcaster refused to comply and a party aggrieved by an order of the Authority had no legal remedy against it.
However, the legal regime changed with the enactment of the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021. The new rules gave statutory recognition to self-regulatory bodies like the NBDSA. Regulation 18(5) of the amended Rules empowers the Authority to issue an advisory, warning, censure, admonish or reprimand or demand an apology to be telecast by the broadcaster; or to include a warning card or a disclaimer in the program.
However, Rule 18(5)(iv) of the amended Rules states that, "In case of any content where it (Self Regulating Body - NBDSA) is satisfied that there is a need for taking action to delete or modify content, refer it to the Central Government for the consideration of the oversight mechanism referred to in rule 19 for appropriate action".
Rule 19 of amended Rules further provides for an Oversight Mechanism which would be developed by the Central Government for coordinating and facilitating adherence to the Programme Code and Advertising Code.
Hence, while under its NBDSA's own regulation, the Authority has no power to order the deletion of content, as per the 2021 Rules, if the Authority is satisfied that there is a need for taking action for modification or deletion of content, it can only refer the matter to the Central Government for the passing of appropriate orders.
Interestingly, it appears from the orders that the Complainant in the complaint against Times Now had only sought an apology from the broadcaster, whereas the complaint against Zee News sought both apology and removal of impugned content. However, the Authority has not demanded any apology from either of the broadcasters, which would have been within the power of the Authority.
Hence, the direction issued by Justice Sikri to Times Now and Zee News to remove the video of the impugned broadcast from different platforms and to report compliance within seven days appears to be beyond the power of the Authority both as per its own regulations and the 2021 Rules.