In keeping with the recently announced move to decriminalize smaller offences — especially those of a technical or financial nature — Government of India today proposed to remove jail terms for violating Cable TV Networks Regulation Act.
At present, the violation of the cable TV Act can result in jail terms of up to two years for the first offence and up to five years for repeat offenders.
Cable TV Networks Regulation Act is a comprehensive piece of regulation that governs nearly all aspects of broadcasting and distributing television channels in India.
Despite the name, the law applies as much to channel owners as it does to signal distributors like cable and DTH operators.
The name of the Act owes to the fact that initially, most of the content producers (broadcasters) were located outside the country and were therefore outside the purview of Indian laws.
Today, Cable TV Act has two key thrust areas — one targeted at regulating cable and DTH operators, and the other targeted at regulating television content/broadcasters.
In its role as a regulator of the distribution industry, the Act lays down punishments for unauthorized distribution of TV channels, piracy, under declaration of subscriber numbers, failure to comply with TRAI directives and so on.
On the content regulation front, the Act includes a programming code what is allowed and not allowed on TV channels.
This set of rules have often been blamed for being too vague and therefore overreaching in its scope. The rules, for example, including prohibitions on content that “offends against good taste” or “encourages superstition” — which leave liberal scope for interpretation by the executive.
NO MORE JAIL?
According to the decriminalization proposal floated by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, punishments for offences committed under the Act would be limited to seizing the equipment of the operator, cancellation of the license, a ban of up to 30 days on the broadcasting of the channel, forcible running of apology scrolls and so on.
The earlier provision for jail terms for the key decision maker(s) in the company will be done away with.
MIB said that the move is part of the broader thrust to reform governance in India, and make laws more business friendly.
The proposal has been placed on MIB’s website for public comments until 24 July, after which the government will move to incorporate it into law.
The move to decriminalize offences of a technical and financial nature was raised by the Confederation of Indian Industry early in February this year.
Following this, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced decriminalization of offences under Companies Act in the budget presented in the same month.
Announcing COVID-19 related economic reforms in May this year, Sitharaman said violations involving “minor technical and procedural defaults” would be decriminalized to improve the ease of doing business in the country.
This was followed by a concrete proposal to decriminalize several violations under 19 laws, including check bounces and failure to repay loans.
The Acts include Insurance Act, Payment and Settlements Systems Act, NABARD Act, Actuaries Act, General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act and Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Act.
The finance ministry is also decriminalizing certain offences under DICGC Act and Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes Act, State Financial Corporations Act, Credit Information Companies (Regulation) Act and Factoring Regulation.
At present, a check bounce can land a person in jail for two years, even though the offence is of a civil nature. According to jurisprudence, criminal offences are those that are harmful to the society, in addition to being harmful to the victim, while civil matters are considered to be largely a matter between two private parties or individuals without wider ramifications. Punishments such as jail terms and death are usually reserved for criminal offences, while convictions in civil disputes usually result in fines and other such penalties.
The proposed amendments are likely to be wholeheartedly supported by cable TV and DTH operators.
It remains to be seen if broadcasters (channel owners) are as supportive, as they may fear a rise in piracy and non-compliance if such provisions are removed.
However, an industry source suggested that broadcasters too are likely to support the amendments.