National Interest Content on TV Channels: What the I&B Ministry's New Advisory Says

The Union information and broadcasting ministry has said that content of national and social importance which is part of existing programmes would count as fulfilment of obligations under the recent guidelines issued in November 2022.

New Delhi: The Union government has said that topics of national importance and social relevance, if found in programmes shown by private television channels, would count as fulfilment of recent guidelines that require them to broadcast such content for 30 minutes a day.

In November 2022, new guidelines issued by the Union Cabinet gave the government the power to compel all Indian television channels to broadcast ‘content in the national interest’ on basis of a “general advisory” that it may issue to them “from time to time”. In addition, the guidelines also asked channels to broadcast “themes of national importance and of social relevance” for at least 30 minutes a day.

The Wire had reported that while channels will have the freedom to make and broadcast their own content to meet this obligation and the new guidelines themselves use the phrase “may undertake public service broadcasting for a minimum period of 30 minutes in a day…”, the government had said it intends to monitor this programming to ensure compliance.

On Monday, January 30, the Union ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) said that relevant content which is part of existing programmes would count as fulfilment of obligations under the Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Television Channels in India, 2022.

The content need not be of 30 minutes at a stretch, can be spread over smaller time slots and shall be counted cumulatively on a  monthly basis i.e. 15 hours per month, the advisory said. Any content broadcast from midnight to 6 am shall not count.

In a press release issued on the online portal of the Press Information Bureau, the I&B ministry wrote that the broadcaster, however, would still need to submit a monthly report online.

“Through the “Advisory”, the Ministry has clarified that the relevant content embedded in the programmes being telecast can be accounted for Public Service Broadcasting. It is also clarified that the content need not be of 30 minutes at a stretch and could be spread over smaller time slots and requires the broadcaster to submit a monthly report online on the Broadcast Seva Portal.”

It adds that the theme for the broadcast should comprise “content of national importance and of social relevance, including the following:

  • education and spread of literacy;
  • agriculture and rural development;
  • health and family welfare;
  • science and technology;
  • welfare of women;
  • welfare of the weaker sections of the society;
  • protection of environment and of cultural heritage; and
  • national integration.”

This new advisory was released after extensive consultation with stakeholders like private satellite television channel broadcasters and their associations, the ministry said in the release.

The advisory says that the “objective of public service broadcasting needs to be achieved” through the showing of this stipulated content, which it stresses could happen through “voluntary compliance and self-certification.”

It also says that channels can “modulate” content to fulfil this obligation except where it may not be feasible, such as in the case of sports channels.

It also says that the Union government could issue more ‘general advisory’ on the topic which have to be complied with:

The Central Government may, from time to time, issue general advisory to the channels for telecast of content in national interest, and the channel shall comply with the same.

The advisory also says that content can be shared between broadcasters and could be repeatedly telecast on one or several TV channels.

It also calls for a common online platform to be developed as a repository of ‘relevant videos or textual content from various sources’. This repository may be accessed and used by TV channels for the purposes of public service broadcasting.