Farheen Bushra Rahman, 28, a Calcutta-based designer, is of the view that the programmes being aired on television general entertainment channels (GECs) are by and large quite unsuitable for children. They have far too much sexual innuendo and violence, she feels, and she wishes something could be done about it.
Rahman may have found an answer to her problem. Last year the Indian Broadcasting Federation set up the Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC) to look into viewers’ complaints about television content. And if you have seen the occasional ticker tape running across your television screen, asking you to complain if you find anything objectionable in the programme that you are watching, that’s the body you need to take your complaint to.
Essentially, the BCCC has been mandated with the task to formulate self-regulatory guidelines and a programme code for the television industry. “It is a 13-member body, headed by Justice (retd) A.P. Shah. The other 12 members have been selected from different walks of life. Of these 12 members, four are from the broadcast industry,” says Anand Kumar, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and a member of the BCCC.
The council provides a two-tier mechanism to ensure compliance with television content code and certification rules. The first consists of self-regulation at the level of the individual TV channel. When the channels flout the self-regulatory guidelines, that’s when it moves to the next level and the BCCC examines complaints from viewers or other sources, including the ministry of information and broadcasting and non-governmental organisations.
Consumers can complain against objectionable programmes (within 14 days of them being telecast) either by post or by registering the complaint at the BCCC website (http://ibfindia.com/onlineform.php), < http://ibfindia.com/onlineform.php ),>” says Naresh Chahal, director of finance, Indian Broadcast Federation, and a key official of BCCC.
However, most consumer activists feel that the BCCC is little more than a toothless body, since it is not empowered to take any punitive action against offending channels. Once it is convinced that a particular channel has not conformed to the norms, all that the BCCC can do is to issue a warning and ask it to discontinue broadcasting the programme or demand that it airs an apology. In some cases the council can even recommend to the ministry of information and broadcasting to take appropriate action against the channel.
Says Mumbai-based consumer activist Jehangir Gai, “The BCCC is ineffective because it can merely direct the channel to discontinue the broadcast of the programme in question. If the broadcaster disregards the council’s directive, the council cannot take any action. All it can do is to refer the matter to the ministry for appropriate action.”
The BCCC is also hamstrung by the fact that the movies and advertisements aired on television fall outside its purview. As Gai stresses, “The BCCC will not help in controlling television content as it excludes complaints against films, movie videos, film trailers or any other production that is telecast after obtaining a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification.”
However, it’s not just the content on television that bothers a lot of viewers. Critics point out that there are some television channels that fleece consumers with impunity. Take Calcutta’s Abdul Zahir. All he did was to call a number provided by Gold Safe, a game show aired on two national channels, to give his answer to a contest. After being asked to hold the line for a good 15 to 20 minutes, Zahir disconnected the call. When he got his phone bill for the month he was shocked to discover that he had been charged at international rates for that call.
So can the BCCC take action against a show like this one? The answer is no. “Call rates have nothing to do with content. So BCCC has no say over it, However, we have asked the concerned channels to run a ticker stating that all calls will charged at a rate higher than the usual tariff in these shows,” says Chahal.
Again, if you are concerned about adult content creeping into general entertainment channels (think Bigg Boss!), all that the BCCC promises to do is to try and get these aired at later time slots. “No law in India bars a porn star from appearing in such shows. So how can we stop them? The only thing that can be done is to make sure that these shows are aired at a later time slot,” says Chahal.
He also points out that most of the time the complaints filed by the audience are too vague for any concrete action to be taken against the offending channel. This could perhaps be the reason the BCCC has deliberated on just 524 complaints out of the 3900 filed since it was set up nine months ago. Most complaints on which some action was taken were to do with depicting cruelty against women, portraying gender issues in a regressive manner, much too graphic crime shows and so on.
Needless to say, consumer experts like Gai are totally cynical about what the BCCC will be able to accomplish given its inability to take any concrete action against a channel. “What’s more,” says Gai, “the BCCC has to pass orders on a complaint within three weeks. So by the time action is taken on a particular complaint, the programme would have moved on already. Hence, it would be pointless to direct discontinuation of a programme after that.”
However, those within the BCCC stress that it has had some effect. “Just because we don’t take penal action doesn’t mean that we are not an efficient body. We have asked several channels to modify content, change timings and not repeat shows with objectionable content during general viewing time,” stresses Kumar.
Viewers like Farheen Bushra Rahman may, however, want more than that.