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SC seeks government’s view on regulatory body for visual media

New Delhi : Taking a dim view of the visual media, the Supreme Court Thursday asked the central government to inform it about what it intended to do for setting up a regulatory body to regulate the electronic media.

Deriding the repeated telecast of the same clip by the electronic media from morning till evening and comparing it with telecasts of foreign electronic media, Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya asked: “Have you ever seen foreign channels showing dead bodies.”

He said that even after the 9/11 attacks in New York not one dead body was shown on the visual media including the recent beheading of the American and British journalists.

“I can’t read my SLP (Special Leave Petition) with TV on”, said Justice Mukhopadhaya adding that they are only interested in TRPs and the time has come to sort it out.

Giving the central government four weeks time to get back to it on the regulatory body, the bench of Justice Mukhopadhaya and Justice Prafulla Chandra Pant said that the regulatory body that may be set to regulate the electronic media should be an effective body and not like the Press Council of India.

“We want to have an effective regulatory body and not like Press Council of India. Communicate to us, give time frame and then we will direct you to undertake it in the time frame (to set up regulatory body)”, the court told Additional Solicitor General P.S.Patwalia as he sought time to take instructions from the government.

Seek instructions, what steps the government will take for putting in place a regulatory mechanism, Justice Mukhopadhaya told Patwalia, saying that it should be before his retirement slated for March 2015.

As the court directed it be apprised of the government’s position on setting up the regulatory authority, the counsel for the News Broadcaster Association – a voluntary association of the electronic media – urged the court that the government should consult them before embarking on the course of setting up the regulatory body.

The court made it clear that no regulatory mechanism would be totally independent of the government, and the government would have some say.

It also asked the government to respond to NGO Common Cause’s petition seeking that Community Radios and FM Channels be allowed to broadcast news which is not permitted at present under the rules.

Counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO Common Cause told the court that despite an expert committee and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India saying FM radios and community radios be permitted to broadcast news, the government was dragging its feet and not allowing it.

He told the court that all FM Channels and community radios are permitted to broadcast Doordarshan news, which he said imposed “restriction on my freedom and violated my freedom of speech”.

He said that in no other country were there such restrictions on community radios, a claim disputed by ASG Patwalia.

The next hearing in the matter will be held Oct 31.