'Show Content in National Interest if Asked': Union Govt's Guidelines to TV Channels

In addition, channels have been asked to broadcast 'public service' programmes on one of eight themes for at least 30 minutes a day but may produce their own content to meet this obligation.

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New Delhi: New guidelines issued by the Union Cabinet on Thursday give 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 ask channels to broadcast “themes of national importance and of social relevance” for at least 30 minutes a day.

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 has said it intends to monitor this programming to ensure compliance.

However, the rule for the compulsory broadcast of officially mandated content ‘in the national interest’ uses explicit language:

“35(3). 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.”

On November 9, the Press and Information Bureau (PIB) uploaded an announcement about the new  ‘Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Television Channels in India, 2022’. The detailed 34-page guidelines have been posted on the website of the Ministry of  Information and Broadcasting,

These guidelines, which regulate the conduct of all Indian channels which broadcast content in India via satellite uplink and downlink, were first issued in 2005 and revised in 2011. The current revision has taken place after 11 years – after “taking into account the technological advances in the interim period”, the ministry said.

It is understood that all television stations which have the Union government’s permission would have to follow the guidelines. The exceptions are foreign channels, channels broadcasting live sports or those like wildlife channels in which it is not going to be feasible to broadcast such content.

The government says the mandatory content rules spring from the fact “are public property and need to be used in the best interest of the society.”

Among themes of national interest, the guideline mentions 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.

“It is not that the government will give any programmes to the television channels for broadcasting under public interest content. The channels are free to create their own content on the themes mentioned in the guidelines,” I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra said, according to PTI.

Chandra was also quoted by the Indian Express as having said that the government will “soon be issuing a specific advisory pertaining to the time slot for the telecast of such content and the date of implementation” after consulting with broadcasters and stakeholders.

Chandra also spoke of his ministry’s intention to monitor channels for such content. In case of non-compliance, an explanation will be sought, he said.

Other aspects of new guidelines

The new guidelines will also allow limited liability partnerships and companies to allow uplinking of foreign channels from Indian teleports for beaming content in countries covered by the satellite footprint.

The move is expected to allow television channels of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal to uplink from India, instead of Singapore, the preferred uplinking hub for channels beamed in the subcontinent.

Currently, only 30 channels are uplinked from India out of the total 897 registered with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, PTI reported.

“Requirement for seeking permission for live telecast of events has been done away with; only prior registration of events to be telecast live would be necessary,” Sanjiv Shankar, Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) said in a presentation to the media here.

He said there would be no requirement of prior permission for change of language or conversion of mode of transmission from Standard Definition (SD) to High Definition (HD) or vice versa.

The channel will only have to inform the ministry about the changes, he said.

In case of emergency, for a company/ LLP with only two Directors/Partners, changes can be done subject to security clearance post such appointment, to enable business decision making.

The new guidelines state that a company can use news gathering equipment other than Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG), such as optic fibre, back pack, mobile, for which no separate permission would be necessary.

The guidelines state that electronic news gathering devices can be used.

The guidelines also grant permission for a news agency for a five year period against one year at present.

The guidelines also make it mandatory for TV Channels uplinking in frequency band other than C-band to encrypt their signals.

(With PTI inputs)